From the May 2000 issue of Startups

Want to meet the love of your life? Go to work. A whopping 80 percent of us report some sort of "social-sexual" experience on the job, according to Montana State University, Bozeman psychology professor Charles Pierce, and 55 percent of respondents to a Society of Human Resources survey said romances in their company led to marriage, so this isn't frivolous stuff. Better still, Pierce--who's made a specialty out of studying mating on the job--says that some office romances "can be beneficial. Employees channel romantic energy into work tasks." Surprising? Not with all of us spending longer hours at the office. That's led to the workplace replacing the gym and singles bars as the most likely spot to meet a mate.

Sound enticing? There are downsides--especially for the boss--and that's why we've compiled this grab bag of informative Web links. If your heart beats faster at the sight of an employee, click your mouse, now, before you get in trouble.

Temperatures Rising

There's no surer proof that attitudes about workplace dating have shifted than this poll (www.disgruntled.com/amasurve.html) conducted by the American Management Association. It found 74 percent of respondents think intra-office dating is okay; 21 percent even think it's okay for a supervisor to date a subordinate. And less than 1 percent of responding companies say they have a policy that bans all employee dating.

Harassment or Fun?

Want to lose your business? Ask the wrong employee out on a date. Any time a supervisor hits on a subordinate, the risks of a lawsuit escalate. Some bosses just don't want to take the chance, so no matter what their feelings are, they look outside the company. But some bosses do plunge into this perilous area. If you're looking likewise, prepare yourself with the legal ins and outs:

  • "What Is Sexual Harassment?" (www.toolkit.cch.com/text/p05_5165.asp): An excellent analysis of the current lay of the legal land. Read here for clear explanations of the most common forms of sexual harassment, including "Quid pro quo" harassment and "hostile work environment" harassment, and how to avoid them.
  • "Love Contract--Take Two" (www.gutierrez-preciado.com/Memos/romance.htm): Find another version of an intra-office dating contract at this site, constructed by Gutierrez, Preciado & House LLP, a Pasadena, California, law firm.

When Employees Do It

You have three choices regarding workplace romances among your employees: Ignore 'em, ban 'em, or offer up a policy that attempts to clarify when they are acceptable. Which best suits you and your business? Read on to learn more.

  • "The Dating Game Moves to the Workplace" (www.all-biz.com/articles/dating.htm): Employee relations consultant Ethan Winning gives a thoughtful overview of the big legal issue--when and how an employer has the right to intrude into the private life of an employee.
  • "Dealing With Office Romance Has Changed With the Times" (www.amcity.com/albany/stories/1999/08/16/focus4.html): A reasoned argument by David Olsen, director of a Scotia, New York, counseling center, that managers should use "systems theory" to regulate romances. Particularly useful is the reminder that a romance by any two workers in an office impacts many more.

Brain Food

The Office Romance: Playing with Fire Without Getting Burned by Dennis M. Powers (AMACOM, $22.95, 800-262-9699). Want to snuggle in bed with a good read? It's certainly safer, and if the book is this one, you'll benefit from advice offered by lawyer Powers, who explains the rules for office romance, offers suggestions for building personal relationships within the office based on interviews with hundreds of professionals, and clarifies the difference between consensual romance and harassment.


Robert McGarvey and Babs S. Harrison met on a business trip three years ago and they work together today, so how could they argue against romance in business?