It’s Valentine’s day and I thought it would be an appropriate time to discuss workplace romances. They happen often. Workplace romance can cause significant legal trouble. Co-worker relationships can create awkwardness among other team members. Relationships involving supervisors and subordinates often set up power differentials that can spark harassment and retaliation claims if the romance ends badly. Banning workplace relationships seldom work. The best course is to manage it. Stay informed of company policy and what those policies could mean to you.

A study in 2017 conducted by suggested that 59 percent of respondents have engaged in some form of office romance. A similar study by indicated that 72 percent of workers who have office relationships do not try to hide them—as compared with 46 percent five years earlier. Interestingly, millennials have a much more open mind about workplace romances. According to a study by SHRM, more than half of workplace romances are between employees in different departments, and nearly one-third are between workers of the same rank. Fewer than ten percent happen between a supervisor and direct subordinate or between employees of significantly different rank (though few in number, these types of office romances come with the greatest risk of legal liability.)

Even if workplace relationships are inevitable, they shouldn’t take place between boss and subordinate, among coworkers who work directly together, or between an employee and a vendor. The potential for conflicts of interest in these relationships is just too great. Employees who embark on a relationship together should be aware of issues that may arise, including favoritism,discrimination and the chance of a hostile work environment.Instead of “anti-fraternization” or “no-dating” policies, policies that prohibit sexual harassment and discrimination – and encourage employees to come forward with complaints – are encouraged. This way, if an office romance does lead to harassment, the employer will have notice of the problem and be able to take action.

Have a Happy Valentine’s Day!