I’ve got a good friend at work who makes my workplace SO much more tolerable. Over the past few months, I’ve developed a crush and I think she feels the same way about me. Do you think starting a relationship with a coworker is a bad idea?
Hello and congratulations on finding someone you’re interested in romantically. How exciting! You’re smart to think about how to proceed, not just because workplace romance can cause difficult entanglements, but because you value this person’s friendship so highly.
Does your employer have a policy against colleagues dating? Most workplaces do not, as that type of policy infringes on employees’ personal lives and is difficult to enforce. I often say in harassment prevention workshops that it just makes it more enticing – not a smart rule. It is common, though, for employers to prohibit family or romantic relationships between direct supervisors and subordinates, which makes good sense and appeals to a sense of fairness.
If the object of your affection is not your supervisor or subordinate, I say go for it. Life is short, and who knows? This person may turn out to be the love of your life. Ask her out on a date and see what happens. If she says no or isn’t available, leave the door open for the possibility of a future date (“If you’d like to have dinner some other time, let me know, I’d love to take you out”). After this initial attempt, I strongly advise you to cease the invitations, and here’s why.
Harassment in the workplace happens every day in hundreds of different ways, intentionally and unintentionally, illegal whether one intends to offend or not. The key words in determining whether behavior is harassment are “welcome” and “reasonable.” If behavior (for example, asking someone out or complimenting their appearance) is welcome, it’s not harassment.
If your behavior makes the recipient of your attention uncomfortable and is unwelcome, it can mean you’re creating a hostile environment – an environment in which your co-worker is now less comfortable as she tries to do her job. A court or EEOC investigator would apply the “reasonable person” standard to such a situation: would a reasonable person be offended or less likely to focus on their job due to the behavior in question? If so, it’s likely harassment, and it’s illegal. This is something from which you want to keep your name a million miles away throughout your career.
Live life and risk rejection from time to time, but be ever vigilant that you don’t create an “ick” feeling as you communicate with your co-worker. If the two of you begin dating, I wish you the best. I likewise wish you determination to keep the relationship highs and lows out of earshot of coworkers for the sake of your professional reputation and for the sake of your team, who have their own personal life dramas waiting at home.