two young attractive colleagues

May 30, 2024

In the complex dance of workplace relationships, the line between romance and harassment can sometimes be blurred. You may wonder: “Is asking out a co-worker crossing a line?” or “How do I navigate office romance without creating an uncomfortable environment?”  

It’s a good question, and the answer is one you should understand. According to the Harvard Business Review, 40% or women and 16% of men will experience sexual harassment at work.  

Ultimately, it comes down to the individual circumstances and how the person who is being asked feels about the situation. If the person feels comfortable saying no and there is no pressure or coercion involved, then it is not considered sexual harassment. Of course, if the person who is being asked does not want to go on a date and feels pressured or coerced into doing so, then it could be considered sexual harassment.   

Let’s explore some practical guidelines that can help maintain professionalism while nurturing personal connections. 

One and Done: The cardinal rule remains: ask once and accept the answer gracefully. Persistent advances after a rejection can escalate into harassment. Unwanted advances, offensive jokes, or discussions of personal matters beyond mutual comfort levels are red flags. Remember, respect for boundaries is paramount. 

Know the Rules: Familiarize yourself with your organization’s dating policies and code of conduct. These guidelines establish boundaries and expectations, preventing potential conflicts of interest or favoritism. Transparency in relationships, especially between managers and subordinates, is essential to maintaining a fair and respectful work environment. 

Stay Professional – Even Online: In the age of remote work, digital communication channels require the same level of professionalism as in-person interactions. Harassment can manifest through emails, texts, or video calls just as easily as face-to-face encounters. Upholding respectful conduct across all platforms is imperative to fostering a safe and inclusive work environment. 

Relationships Can Get Complicated: While consensual relationships are not harassment, they can introduce complexities such as favoritism or conflicts of interest. When personal relationships intersect with professional responsibilities, it’s crucial to maintain objectivity and fairness. Additionally, breakup dynamics within the workplace can amplify tensions and potentially lead to harassment claims if not handled with care. 

Recognizing Sexual Harassment: It’s Not Okay: While consensual relationships in the workplace are not considered harassment, when they transition to non-consensual interactions they can quickly lead to claims of harassment and hostile work environments. Sexual harassment comes in many forms, from unwanted comments to physical touching. If someone’s making you uncomfortable, speak up. And if you see it happening to someone else, don’t hesitate to report it. Creating a safe workplace is everyone’s responsibility. 

Many employees may be unsure of what constitutes sexual harassment, while targets may not always recognize the signs. By prioritizing sexual harassment training, mutual respect and clear boundaries, companies can cultivate a workplace culture where personal connections flourish without compromising professionalism to ensure a positive and inclusive environment for all employees.  

Click here for a free trial of Traliant’s Preventing Workplace Harassment training.  



Mark Hudson