To Date or Not to Date: Choosing Love or a Job

By Lindsey Novak

December 11, 2014 7 min read

Q: There are certain large companies I want to work for, so I am on their job distribution lists and apply when I see a job I want. I had an interview for one of these companies and met with a few people. I got along with all of them, but I didn't get the job. I was attracted to one of the men, who appeared to be single, but I would never say or do anything unprofessional in an interview.

Days later, I ran into him. I said hello and refreshed his memory of who I was. He was very friendly, more than just polite, but I had the feeling he thought he couldn't say anything personal — for example, asking me out. Would it be OK for me to call him to ask whether we could get together? First, I want to know why I didn't get the job. I also would love to go out with him, so if I don't have a chance of getting hired, I would like to at least tell him I am interested. Would that be the wrong thing to do? Would I be ruining my chances of getting a job there?

A: You did not get this job, but you are interested in working at the company, so you should treat this as you would a possible office romance.

"In complex matters of the heart, sometimes reason and good judgment are not used as much as they should be. In matters of the law, however, reason and good judgment are all we have," says Patrick J. Boyd of The Boyd Law Group. "Whilst love and the law are separate entities, they both have intricate and sometimes complicated aspects to them. Love in the workplace is a contentious issue for both lawmakers and lawyers alike, especially with the increase of sexual harassment litigation and what some can call almost a civility code in the workplace, created by complicated and evolving statutes."

There are several legal, practical and public-policy concerns for companies to consider because of the fact that workplace romances are inevitable, regardless of the rules and regulations that seek to discourage them. According to Boyd, an employee's personal life should really be of little or no concern to the employer. With an office romance, though, an employer may find that an employee's personal life intrudes on its operations and presents legal and financial liabilities. Many companies now have a set of procedures and policies in place to protect themselves from litigation that might result from romances gone wrong, and some even require workers to disclose an intimate relationship or the wish to pursue one before they get involved in one at work. The California Supreme Court's 2005 decision of Miller v. Department of Corrections held that employers can be held liable for harassment or discrimination if supervisory favoritism toward subordinates with whom supervisors are having consensual relationships is present in the workplace.

Although no body of legislation deals with all of the far-reaching aspects of potential litigation that addresses employers in this context, some companies have tried to shield themselves from such litigation by requiring all supervisors personally involved with their subordinates to enter into "love contracts." These contracts hold no real legal bearing under state or federal law but are merely a company policy that requires subordinates to acknowledge that their relationship with a supervisor is completely consensual. This can prevent the subordinate from later claiming that he/she was coerced or pressured into the relationship by the superior. This also protects the company with some evidentiary protection from issues that might arise if the relationship were to go awry. To date, though, the overall legality and enforceability of such contracts has yet to be tried and tested in court.

One of the most difficult situations for an employer, as well as its employees, is one in which a once voluntary relationship sours. Regardless of the employees' positions, the emotional, practical and legal consequences from a breakup of a relationship between employees may be severe. Unfortunately, the consequences can lead to greater employer liability when the relationship is between a supervisor and subordinate, even though the breakup of relationships between co-workers of equal rank could result in serious workplace disruption. With this in mind, one can see how an employer could be concerned with dating or entering into a relationship with a prospective employee and might also want to avoid any explanations of why that person was not chosen for the particular job. Hirers might also be dissuaded from offering employment to someone who is already in a relationship with someone at that company.

It is nearly impossible to prohibit all dating and fraternization by employees within a workplace, regardless of employees' rank or department within that company. A supervisor, though, must consider whether it's worth the risk to mix personal and professional life and whether he/she thinks he/she has the ability to prevent their professional lives from suffering.

Ultimately, if an employee or potential employee is considering asking out a superior, that person must determine whether a potential relationship outweighs the possibility for future job prospects at that company. Many might opt for the possibility of love, but if a career is to grow over the next 20 years, one cannot ignore the vast legal implications surrounding the issue and the possible long-term professional ramifications if the relationship were not to last. No one can decide another's priorities; some professionals spend years building careers, only to drop them once married with children. Choosing to ask out the man who interviewed you might be worth the risk to you, seeing as you have yet to be hired, but if he were to turn down your invitation, you shouldn't take it personally. It might mean that he is not willing to risk a career for a relationship.

Email your problems and questions to workplace expert Lindsey Novak at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter @I_truly_care. To find out more about Lindsey Novak and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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