How to have an office romance and keep your job

Co-worker chemistry can be irresistible, but it’s best to tread carefully.

Christie Toy and Nick


YOUR eyes meet over the photocopier and the chemistry is electric.

But should you indulge your workplace attraction, and can your boss put a stop to it?

It must be said that office romances are inevitable to some degree; with all the time that Australians spend toiling away, it is little wonder that so many of us find love in the workplace.

But is having an office affair illegal?

If you read the news this week, it would seem that there are certainly problems that can arise when mixing carnal passion with your career.

But if two colleagues embark on a consensual personal relationship, there’s not much an employer can do to stop them. In fact, there is no Australian law which says it can’t happen.

Where the problems arise is if an employer has a policy in place with specific rules of engagement.

Some businesses attempt to regulate personal relationships through a range of internal policies, and it is important that you are aware of these requirements before embarking on any inter-office romance.


Pam and Jim from The Office show us how it’s done. Picture: Danny Feld

Pam and Jim from The Office show us how it’s done. 


Most of these policies are simply aimed at the disclosure of the new relationship, to ensure that potential conflicts of interest are identified.

For example, a policy may require a manager to let the organisation know they are in a relationship with one of the staff members they supervise.

There could be a potential for the perception of favouritism, especially where an employee’s partner is responsible for conducting their performance review, or determining who should receive a promotion. Then there’s the risk of reputational damage to the employer.

Failing to tell the appropriate people that there is a new liaison or a potential conflict of interest may be a breach of company policy, and if so could result in one or all of the parties involved losing their jobs.

The Fair Work Commission has found that employers have had valid reasons to terminate employees where:

• An inter-office relationship created a potential conflict of interest; and

• The relationship was not disclosed in accordance with the employer’s internal policies.

If you are sacked simply because you have had a relationship with another employee, there may be grounds to take action for unfair dismissal and you should seek legal advice. You only have 21 days from the date of termination to lodge an unfair dismissal claim.

When an office romance goes sour, this gives rise to another tricky point that must be considered.

If one person continues with unwelcome sexual contact after the relationship has ended, then there could be grounds for a sexual harassment claim — and there are many protections enshrined in law to prevent this happening.

Sexual harassment can include:

• Any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.

• Sending explicit emails or text messages.

• Intrusive questions about your private life.

• Inappropriate advances on Facebook or social networking sites.

If this has happened to you, approach your employer or contact the Australian Human Rights Commission to make a complaint of sexual harassment.

While there’s no law against love in the workplace, there’s certainly some things to think about before you fall head over heels for a co-worker.”

Christie Toy and Nick Jackman are workplace law specialists with Shine Lawyers.