Rules of the Office Dating Game: What's Acceptable?

Relationships can be complicated…especially if that special someone is also a coworker.

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According to a CareerBuilder survey of more than 4,000 workers nationwide, 17% of respondents have dated a coworker at least twice, with 30% of those relationships leading to marriage. After all, you can’t always help whom you fall in love with.

“We spend over 70% of our time at the office,” says Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s career expert. “Work is where we spend our days, explore ourselves and build our networks so why would dating be excluded?”

With this said, mixing business with pleasure can have a long-term negative impact on a career. Before deciding to date a colleague, Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for, suggests weighing the pros and cons of starting a relationship and to be prepared to tread carefully and be ready to take responsibility for the decision.

Dating a coworker can have unwanted consequences depending on company policies and how the relationship unfolds. If you do decide to pursue a relationship with a coworker, experts suggest answering a few questions before you leap.

What’s your company’s policy?

Companies have different policies regarding interoffice relationships, so research before pursuing a coworker. “If you’re in a situation where no relationships are allowed, there’s no grey there,” says Haefner. “If you make that choice, know that there’s a big risk if you get found out. You could get fired.”

Being involved with a coworker can potentially jeopardize business objectives or be a distraction in the workplace, says Jolynn Cunningham, director of talent at Indeed. “You’re there to do business and personal relationships are secondary.”

If your company allows a relationship, pursue it with discretion. “You’re there to work—your company’s paying you for a job to do,” says Amanda Lachapelle, director of human resources and talent acquisition at Glassdoor.

Can you date your boss or a subordinate?

“If there’s no policy, it’s never ever a good idea to get involved with someone in a reporting structure, whether they report to you or vice versa,” warns Cunningham. “There are certain prejudices against people who are romantically involved with the boss—people would question promotions and raises.”

Even though everyone’s fair play if your company doesn’t have a policy, Williams says that it’s difficult for a subordinate to consent to a relationship with a supervisor because of the inherent pressure and influence of his or her advances. “Your company is the one that pays the harassment bill and insurance doesn’t cover it,” says Williams.

Should you tell your colleagues?

“If you think you can hide your affair from your coworkers, think again,” says Williams. Your peers will catch on to your always synchronized lunches, coffee breaks and vacations. “Attempting to keep the relationship a secret usually fails and invites interest, speculation and gossip.”

Experts suggest waiting at least three months before sharing that you’re a couple. If you’re not going against company policy, the relationship isn’t with someone in your reporting structure, or won’t cause additional strife in the office, share the information with coworkers organically and not with an announcement at lunch or a public display of affection, suggests Cunningham. 

Tell your boss first—don’t ask for permission but rather show that you care about the business and your careers, advises Williams. “Your boss will find out anyway and you want them to be confident that you'll behave in a professional, ethical and responsible manner. Your boss can even help to create personal and professional boundaries.”

How do you treat your partner at work?

When dating a colleague, your days of gossiping with coworkers about your love life are over, says Williams. Since your partner is someone else’s coworker or boss, create some ground rules as a couple about sharing personal information.

Although every work environment is different, experts advise against showing any affection towards your partner while in the office. “Any overtly sexual or physical contact is never OK,” says Cunningham. “Respect your coworkers and remember that the office is a place where people come to work.” Since physical contact with a romantic partner in the office can make people feel uncomfortable, err on the side of being conservative.

“If advancing professionally is important to you, really think about how others perceive you,” says Lachapelle. Office romances tend to work best when both people spend their time in the office working.

Also keep in mind that your company can access your work email, so don’t give the company tech support new reading material with your love letters.

What are some of the consequences?

Lachapelle suggests keeping your personal life private and to consider how the relationship could affect your reputation. “You don’t want the reputation of the person who dates around—take into account your role in the company,” says Lachapelle.

The relationship could damage your work credibility, says Cunningham. Your coworkers may question any accolades you receive from your partner.

People tend to regret the relationship when it becomes public, warns Haefner. Coworkers may fill in the story without knowing the facts. “Their work reputation may change for the worse because people found out about their personal life.”

Should you change your job?

Depending on your work environment or the nature of your relationship, experts say one person might need to find a new employer.

“If someone can’t separate work from business, you should do what’s best for the business,” says Cunningham.