Personal Relationships in the Workplace
People working in the same office often develop supportive friendships through their work interaction and association. But, what happens in the workplace when relationships get personal? The university does not want to interfere with the personal lives of employees, but some friendships, romances, or other personal relationships are inappropriate in the workplace. In fact, some personal interactions or relationships have the potential to violate laws, policies, or regulations that apply to our university. Below are some examples of relationships that may or may not be inappropriate:
- Alise and Alex are co-workers who are “just friends.” They need to take the same business trip and are planning to extend the trip to spend the weekend at a resort near the destination. The airline tickets cost the same as a weekday return flight, and they’ll stay in separate hotel rooms at the resort at their own expense. They’ve decided not to tell anyone about these plans.
- Tom and Marge met at the college picnic. They don’t work in the same area of the college but they have mutual friends in both departments. They’ve gone on two dates since the picnic and haven’t told anyone at the office because they feel it’s best to explore their friendship privately, without involving anyone at work.
- Tasha and Jorge met because Jorge is the sales rep with a university vendor and Tasha is in procurement. They’ve been dating for a few months. They know it’s against university policy but they are very careful to avoid physical displays of affection in any business setting. They limit their contact to sending each other emails several times a day.
- Jacqui is Don’s supervisor. Last week Jacqui suggested that she and Don go out after hours to privately discuss work matters. It was clear to Don that her intentions were romantic and he’s not interested. He’s dodged subsequent requests but hesitates to say anything directly to Jacqui or anyone else.
Alise and Alex’s “extended business trip” didn’t cost the university anything extra and took place over a weekend, so it wasn’t violating any policy. However, when their expense reports were turned in, their supervisor noticed that the two returned on Sunday evening and questioned them. Their supervisor told them that they should have mentioned the plan in advance. In addition to reminding the two of the university’s policy on Employment of Relatives, they were advised that they must always disclose any non-standard entries when university records are involved.
Tom and Marge are more than friends but they haven’t told anyone yet. When workplace romances “go bad” they can cause awkwardness for co-workers as well as for the couple themselves. Since they are not in the same department and neither one works for the other, Tom and Marge are not out of line to keep their relationship quiet for now.
Conflicts of Interest
Tasha and Jorge are involved in a different scenario. Their relationship creates a conflict of interest because Tasha makes buying decisions that involve Jorge’s company. Another vendor who knows Jorge happened to see the couple out on a weekend and contacted Tasha’s boss about the issue. Tasha should have disclosed the relationship and asked to be relieved of her responsibility with Jorge’s company. Incidentally, their frequent use of company email for personal communication is a violation of university policy and should be stopped immediately.
Any relationship between a supervisor and a subordinate introduces the possibility of sexual harassment. Jacqui’s romantic overtures to Don could send the message that he will be rewarded on the job if he responds positively and penalized if he refuses her advances. Don is not interested in a relationship and should make that decision clear to Jacqui. If Jacqui’s invitations continue, Don should report her actions to HR, the Office of Institutional Equity, or the UCF IntegrityLine. Incidentally, even if Don were romantically interested in Jacqui, the situation would be improper and a violation of university policy.
Evaluating Your Personal Relationships
When you are considering a personal relationship at the workplace, use these guidelines to examine the situation.
First, determine whether the relationship violates the law or our university’s policies or regulations. If you have any questions about the types of relationships that are allowed at the university, refer to our policies on the Prohibition of Discrimination, Harassment and Related Interpersonal Violence and Employment of Relatives, or speak with HR or the Office of Institutional Equity.
- Does the relationship appear improper, even if it does not directly violate our policies? Remember, perception is as important as reality. If the relationship is perceived as improper, your effectiveness and efficiency at work can be seriously compromised.
- Are you concerned that disclosing the relationship could cause problems at work? No relationship can stay “secret” forever. How will you react when your relationship becomes public? Does the relationship pose any risk of conflict of interest? Even the appearance of a conflict of interest must be avoided. How will you handle changes in the relationship? All relationships evolve over time. How will your work life be affected if the relationship ends or grows more serious?