While sometimes you can't help falling in love, you can help how you react if the relationship goes south.

Oh the quandary of workplace dating: should I, or shouldn't I? As an HR consultant, I can't help but cringe when I see individuals act out in the workplace when a romantic relationship doesn't work out. I totally understand that these types of situations stir up strong emotions that can be tough to handle, but acting out against an individual will only make you look bad. While there is some truth to the whole "you can't help who you love (or like)," you can choose how you react to the situation if a relationship goes south.

I'm not implying you shouldn't date in the workplace. I have dated co-workers in the past and have many friends who have married their co-workers. However, if you do consider dating a co-worker, it's worth it to take a moment and think about what the consequences could be if you do so.

Company Policies and Dating

In some states, privacy laws can prevent employers from prohibiting co-workers from dating, but when possible, many companies have policies prohibiting dating in the workplace because of the fallout that can occur. Other companies encourage dating because it can be easier to manage a couple's career if both work for the same company.

When dating co-workers is allowed within organizations, policies geared towards dating in the workplace are often in place. For example, many companies require you to report your relationship to the HR department, and some organizations go as far as to have employees sign a dating contract. This contract helps to protect the employer from claims of sexual harassment or discrimination/favoritism that could result from the relationship ending poorly and the parties retaliating against each other.

Workplace Dating Protocol

Even when policies prohibit it, it's not uncommon for co-workers to find themselves "falling" for each other. This is understandable considering we often spend the majority of our week with those we work with. Plus, there are shared interests among co-workers (after all, they do work for the same organization, and possibly within the same field within that organization). If you do choose to dance the dating dance with a co-worker, be sure you:

Keep it professional and don't let the relationship negatively impact your work. While at work, focus on your work and not the relationship. Remain professional to stay in the good graces of your other co-workers that probably don't care to see you and your new love kissing, groping or making googly eyes at each other on a regular basis (not to mention, some could perceive this as sexual harassment). Plus, giving each other space at work can support the relationship after work.

Disclose when you need to disclose. Trying to hide a relationship is hard. Know what your organization's policies are, so you know if and when you're breaking them. Doing so will allow you to decide how best to protect your relationship, as well as your career or current job status.

Part ways gracefully. If things go south, confide in a friend or therapist who can support you without you overreacting at work. I completely understand how difficult it can be to work with a co-worker after a break-up, and I also know it's possible to maintain your dignity and keep it professional. I'm not implying it's always easy, but it is a risk you choose to take when you decide to "dip your pen in the company ink" as the saying goes.

To be clear, I'm not at all implying you must stop your emotions at the door when you come to work, as I don't believe we can completely compartmentalize our lives. It's important to take care of yourself and allow yourself to go through the emotions, as you would with any break-up, but be mindful of how you do it. If you don't feel you will be able to keep it together at work, then consider taking a personal day or some vacation time. Most important, you don't want the break-up to impact your job status or position if you can help it. You've likely put hard work in to get to where you're at in your career, so use that as ammunition to move forward and move on for the greatest good in your life.

In summary, if you choose to partake in workplace dating, do so wisely. Remain professional in both the good and the not-so-good times of the relationship. Take the high road by not speaking poorly about the other individual. When some time passes, you'll be thankful you handled the situation with as much grace as possible.  

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