Tonya* and Dario had been dating for a few months when their company’s HR representative saw them kissing at a Christmas party. As employees in different departments, they’d been pretty successful at keeping their relationship under the radar until then, Tonya says, but at the party, they had all been drinking. After being caught in the act, “work became unpleasant,” Tonya remembers. The HR rep began watching her every movement, following her if she left the room. “She commented on any interaction she witnessed between Dario and me. We sort of went to war over it.”
In the three years since the #MeToo movement made issues of sex, consent, and power part of the national discussion, the “office romance” has become a confusing, and especially controversial, space to navigate. Power imbalances can be exploited, allegations of bias and favoritism can throw an office into turmoil, and it can be just plain awkward when coworkers break up.
Studies indicate office romances are increasingly common, unreported, and risky. Meanwhile, some companies have implemented “anti-fraternization” policies, which prohibit any intra-office dating. But when we spend roughly a third of our lives at work, is a ban on employee romance ethical — let alone realistic?