Getting Fired for Dating a Co-Worker: ET When Mark Graziano told his boss he was in love with a co-worker and planned to marry her, he wasn't sure what to expect. To his relief, his supervisor took the news in stride, noting that office romances are bound to happen, says Mr.
Graziano, a business manager for a Massachusetts school. But his boss also offered a stern warning: Graziano says he was told. Office romance is under fire. Long a legal concern because of fears of sexual-harassment charges, employee love affairs are drawing mounting scrutiny as a threat to productivity as well. The pattern is placing increased pressure on employees to manage office romances with care. A flurry of studies on workplace romance, at the American Management Association, Montana State University and elsewhere, plus a growing number of online polls, reflect mounting interest in the topic.
In a unique look at managers' attitudes over time, two studies by the Society for Human Resource Management show bosses taking an increasingly punitive stance. Legal battles over the issue are surfacing in the courts. Barbee didn't directly supervise Ms. Tomita and worked in a different location; he had tried to keep his relationship with her completely separate from work.
He claimed his firing violated his right to privacy. The Price of Passion If you are having an office romance and you can answer yes to any of the following, watch out.
You could be subject to a reprimand, transfer or even firing. Are you involved with a subordinate or a boss? Is your lover assigned to the same work team? Is your affair hurting your job performance? Are you sneaking out of the office for trysts? Have you displayed affection in front of co-workers or clients?
Will you be able to perform on the job if you break up? Could your relationship raise charges of favoritism? In November, however, a California appeals court sided with management, whose lawyers argued the relationship created a potential conflict of interest. Barbee has since married Ms.
Tomita and is working elsewhere, says his attorney in the case, David Strauss of San Diego. So far, few companies offer explicit guidelines on office dating, preferring less-formal oversight. Of those, most merely prohibit managers from dating subordinates. Some employers also bar romance among peers on the same work team. The Princeton Review, New York, has 40 couples on staff who met and married there. While employee dating is accepted, "the big no-no is, not within your work group," says Linda Nessim-Rubin, executive vice president, human resources.
Romance changes the dynamics of team relationships, she says. Generally, it's up to employees to figure out where to draw the line. Should office affairs be kept secret? That depends partly on the culture of your workplace. It may be futile to try to remain undercover if you work in an open, informal office culture, where people work most of their waking hours, says Jennifer Howze, an editor in London for iVillage UK, who has written about her own office romances. Co-workers can get all "wrapped up in the drama and intrigue," and lose a lot of work time trying to figure out what's going on, she says.
When she once tried to date a co-worker in secret, a friend at work who caught her talking with her partner discovered the affair. Howze says the friend told her. Garai is so mindful: He met his wife, Susan Pravda, at the office many years ago and says they made some early mistakes.
The two occasionally disagreed on staffing decisions and found themselves competing for the best associates or disagreeing about assignments. Friendships with some co-workers were frayed when they got caught in the middle, Mr. Now, he and Ms. Pravda try to set a good example by dealing with each other "at arm's length" in the office.
Veterans of office romances set forth another axiom: Begin with the end in mind. Any office romance can crash and burn. As swept away as you may be, says Mr. If it does, you need to be mature and professional enough to handle seeing the person every day. While a good idea in general, this axiom is particularly important at the office, where the trappings of career status and achievement can mask deep personal failings.
Management scrutiny of office affairs seems certain to grow. Today's productivity-driven workplaces afford no room for distractions -- and office romance can be a big one. Also, love at the office is becoming so common that managers can't afford to ignore it.
A poll of 1, workers last year by Vault Inc. The goal of the column is to help readers manage the relationship between work and their family and personal lives. It focuses on innovative solutions to work-family conflict, new corporate strategies for helping employees balance their lives, and new trends and developments that affect readers' work-life balance.
Sue has been a Wall Street Journal reporter, editor, bureau chief and columnist for 16 years, working in Chicago and, currently, from her home outside Portland, Ore. She is a former contributing editor to Parenting magazine.
Sue grew up on a farm in Leonidas, Mich. Off the job, she hikes, reads, listens to music and, with her husband, Richard O'Connor, a public-school administrator, cares for her family -- their two children, Cristin and James, ages eight and six, and her adult stepchildren, Margaret, Richard and Lucas. Sue draws heavily on mail and faxes for material for her column and can be reached via fax at and via e-mail at sue.
E-mail me at sue. To see other recent columns, please go to CareerJournal.