Ask LH: How Do I Navigate Dating A Coworker?

Ask LH: How Do I Navigate Dating A Coworker?

Dear Lifehacker, I just recently started dating someone that I work with. We both want to continue our relationship, but we’re not sure how to involve our mutual employer. Should we contact HR? How do we go about separating life and work? Sincerely, Romcom Inc.

Photos by California Baptist University, Michael DM, Alan Cleaver.

Dear Romcom,

The very first piece of advice you’re likely to get when you start talking about dating coworkers is “Don’t do it.” But you can’t always help where you meet someone. In fact, according to a CareerBuilder survey of 4000 workers, nearly 40 per cent of people have dated a coworker in the past. Of those people, 30 per cent even said it led to marriage! However, there are a few things you need to keep in mind before you try to pull it off.

Check Your Company’s HR Policy Pronto

When it comes to employee fraternisation, every company has its own policy, and there aren’t any hard and fast rules. Note that in Australia, you can’t specifically ban people from dating their coworkers; what you do with your personal life is none of your employer’s business. Your company’s primary concern will be minimising the fallout should a relationship go south, and avoiding any allegations of impropriety or bias (especially if you’re the boss of your colleague, or vice versa). As business blog Inc explains, there are a few different types of approaches that can be taken:

  • They may do nothing. Sometimes, new or smaller companies may rely solely on their harassment policies to avoid any legal problems. This can be freeing, but it also means that if there are any abuses (say your boss is giving preferential treatment to his girlfriend), you might not have any recourse.
  • They may allow dating with anyone but your direct boss. One of the more common types of policies allows employees to date so long as neither person is the other’s supervisor.
  • They may require written disclosure. While it’s not as common, some employers may require employees to sign a form stating their involvement with each other. These are frequently accompanied by rules regarding in-office behaviour. You should probably talk to a lawyer if you can before signing one of these.

If you’re considering dating a coworker, finding out what the policy is before you initiate a romantic relationship will typically be better than springing it on your bosses six months in. Once you know what the policy is, you can move on to phase two.

Avoid Any Conflicts of Interest

The most obvious source of issues is when one employee starts dating his or her direct superior. If you or your significant other manages groups of people, conflicts of interest can arise no matter how careful you are about treating your partner fairly. Even if you do everything perfectly, your company won’t want to deal with the inevitable complaints from people who see a situation differently. If you are your partner’s supervisor, talk to your employer about changing positions or departments if possible.

Even if you’re not in a boss-employee relationship, you’ll still want to be sure to keep your relationship a private matter at work. Reader Scott Oldfield originally met his wife at work 14 years ago and explains how he went on to date and eventually marry her, all while they both continued to work for the same employer:

Our employer is totally fine with relationships in the workplace as long as those involved keep things professional in the workplace. My wife and I pretty much treat each other just like coworkers at work. There’s no physical affection, no “I love you’s” at work. It’s almost like we’re different people at work, which is a good thing and has only gotten easier the longer we’ve done it. We’ll occasionally talk about home-related things (one of the dogs did such and such last night), but again it’s never anything that I’d be embarrassed if anyone else at work heard.

Obviously, this depends a great deal on the environment at your office and your company policy. However, keeping your work life professional and treating your significant other as you would any other coworker will go a long way towards ensuring you don’t end up in trouble with the company.

Coordinate Schedules For Both Work And Play

So, let’s assume that you’ve pulled off the unlikely and you’re happily dating one of your coworkers. You’ve even mastered turning off the flirting at work. All that’s left is to make sure you can, you know, keep that relationship.

How you prioritise your scheduling can depend on your personal preferences, but chances are you’ll want to get your boss involved at some point to coordinate schedules. It may be something as simple as syncing time off, but you may find that your company will be willing to help you arrange your days off in order to spend time together. In fact, as reader Daniel Brown points out, they may prefer it that way, lest you find your own way:

My current girlfriend of 6 years and I work together still. We met here and have since moved in together and I plan to marry her. I told HR but she said there weren’t any forms or anything and we didn’t really have to tell her. My manager was the one to actually bring it up first since he saw us together a lot and I called in sick on one of her days off. He pretty much just said, it’s cool if you are dating but don’t call in sick on her days off. Schedule a day off together.

This is obviously a great lesson in both the right way and the wrong way to do things. Quite simply, if you need time together, don’t sneak behind your employers back (they’ll probably know anyway). Instead, involve them from the get-go and they may be willing to help you out in the first place.

While dating a coworker can be difficult, it’s not impossible if you’re both professional and take the proper steps to discuss your relationship with your employer in a situation where it may affect your work.


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    • This, but be wary of noise.

      The shower rooms in the underground carpark near my building’s gym are convenient for this. Isolated enough that no one will hear you…er…shower.

  • I’ve been sleeping with a colleague for the better part of a year, and the two biggest pieces of advice I can impart are thus:

    1. Remember that your colleagues can see every move you make

    I received a ‘good morning’ spank my on the ladycushion one day as a hello from said colleague, him assuming we were the only ones in the office. We both realised seconds too late that his boss was sitting not ten metres away. Thankfully, said boss either didn’t register it or is feigning ignorance, but it brought us up short VERY quickly.

    Pro tip: when no-one in your office knows you’re doing the horizontal skin-tango with someone else there, it’s often best to try and avoid interacting with your dance partner as much as possible, and this includes those stolen glances at one another when you walk past their desk (or vice versa).

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