The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cupid at work creates havoc

New York, Feb. 13 (Reuters): Cupid in the cubicle can be a problem for employers who are unprepared to deal with the fallout from workplace romances.

With Valentine’s Day looming, experts warn that many employers are caught by surprise by the ripple effects of intra-office relationships, which can demoralise staff and spread envy and resentment.

The problems range from the serious, such as a messy breakup between a boss and a subordinate, to the less obvious, such an exchange of risque e-mails or a kiss in the hallway that can distract colleagues and hurt productivity.

“People are a little sloppier around Valentine’s Day,” said Debra Mandel, a psychologist and author on the subject of office relations. “They might let the relationship out of the box more.”

Employers are not just at risk when a staff member becomes romantic with a supervisor, which can lead to claims of sexual harassment. A soured relationship between peers also puts the company at risk if it leaves one of the workers feeling harassed at work.

Companies may be at risk even if the office relationship ends well, said Shanti Atkins, president of ELT, which offers online ethics and legal compliance training. She cites the example of Gavin Newsom, San Francisco’s single mayor who recently admitted having an affair with a married staff member, and the impact it could have on staff in city government.

She said it could create the impression “one has to sleep with the boss to get ahead,” and an employee could sue, claiming it created a hostile working environment.

A recent poll by Spherion Corp, a workplace recruiter, shows that nearly 40 per cent of US workers have dated an office colleague.

The same survey also showed that 84 percent of US workers said their employer did not have a policy covering office romance or they were not sure if such a policy existed.

In part, that reflects the difficulty employers face in balancing the need to maintain a comfortable work atmosphere with employees’ right to privacy. Experts say many employers decide it is easier to do nothing.

“As long as people are professional in the office, it’s no one’s business what people do outside the office,” says Barbara Pachter, who writes about business etiquette.

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