The etiquette for dating a coworker in light of the #MeToo movement isn’t any different than the way it should have been handled prior to the #MeToo movement.
If coworker romantic relationships had been handled the way they should, there would be no need for a #MeToo movement because abuses would not have happened in the first place.
First and foremost, understand your company’s policy about dating other employees. Employers can limit the ability of coworkers to date one another for a number of valid reasons including avoiding collusion to defraud the employer.
If neither partner is abusive in their relationship behaviors, coworkers who are at equal levels in an organization that does not forbid fraternization between coworkers shouldn’t have any problems.
It is when one coworker is in a position of authority over the other one that the worse abuses occur. If a couple finds they cannot resist the temptation of such a relationship I would encourage them to consult an attorney to protect both of them. The individual who is in the position of authority should offer to pay for the other person’s consultation but allow that person to choose who he or she consults for legal advice.
An agreement that the relationship is consensual and promises that there will be no work-related retaliation if the relationship ends or becomes troublesome signed by both parties, after review by their respective counsel, should go a long way toward protecting them from retaliation or allegations.
If the relationship is casual, a hook-up — just don’t!
Your career is far more important than a hook-up. It isn’t just your current job that is at risk. Your reputation matters and can follow you for decades. Many people believe the worse about someone who is accused and few people believe people will change.
The other safeguard you should take when one person is in a position of authority over the other is to advise the boss of the higher level person that you are in a relationship. This helps avoid the appearance of favoritism during the relationship and helps prevent retaliation if it ends.
If the couple are in unequal power positions at work but one doesn’t report to the other, each should advise their respective supervisor of the relationship.
In the 1980’s, when I was a manager and began dating the General Counsel of the company where I worked, as soon as we determined that the relationship might be serious, we each advised our boss of the relationship. The president of the company didn’t like the General Counsel and almost immediately removed me from several committees I was on because he didn’t want me to tell the General Counsel what I learned during those meetings. We’d been dating for about two months and I hadn’t shared anything with him that I shouldn’t have shared. The president of the company should have talked to me instead of arbitrarily removing me. If that same scenario happened today, I would consult an attorney. The committees involved high-level resume building work.
When there isn’t a direct reporting relationship or significant influence over raises, bonuses, or promotions, I’d follow my instincts about whether to go through the process of obtaining a legal agreement.
Beyond all of that, be cautious about who you date. Don’t date an abuser. Don’t settle for someone with a reputation for being vindictive. Listen to how the person talks about their prior relationships. If they are on friendly terms with someone they were in a relationship with in the past, it is a good sign that they are mature and will not retaliate or make false accusations if the relationship ends. If their relationship with people they were once in a relationship with is ugly, it’s a red flag. It’s not a a definitive sign. Perhaps the other person was abusive. Ask questions. Many people who do not treat other people well believe their behavior is normal. It is amazing what people will admit to because they believe others would do the same things.
Always remember that when big settlements are in the news, there are people who will attempt to set others up to get a payday. Listen to your instincts. If something feels off it probably is off.
Don’t be abusive.
Don’t put the person you’re dating down. Be a positive force in his or her life.
Make sure you have consent — not just the first time. Being with someone once doesn’t give blanket consent to engage in the same activity in the future. Even marriage does’t provide blanket consent.
If your partner tells you no, believe them. The only exception to this is role play games. If you engage in role play, always have a safe word.
Be a good person.
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