Ah, the age-old adage: Don’t sh*t where you eat – a timeless piece of wisdom that has likely stopped many a disastrous workplace relationship in its tracks.
While it’s generally regarded that fraternizing with colleagues is likely to turn very sticky very fast, that rarely stops us.
In The Shift Work Shop’s annual ‘The State of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace’ survey since last year, 45% of respondents said they had dated a co-worker at least once in their career.
While the majority of those relationships were peer-on-peer, nearly a fifth (17%) were between a boss and their subordinate.
It’s easy enough to understand why someone might fancy their boss – after all, power is sexy – but it does beg the question, is sleeping with the boss ethical? And is it always likely to end in tears?
What does the law say about hooking up with your boss?
According to Marcus Difelice, an employment law partner at JMW Solicitors, there are no laws that forbid a boss and their subordinate from entering a relationship at work, but certain companies may have policies against workplace relationships, which are generally frowned upon.
‘[Workplace relationships] run the risk of creating legal problems for the business,’ he tells Metro.co.uk.
‘There are many issues that can arise from that dynamic, including potential conflicts of interest, allegations of favoritism and the sharing of confidential information that should be kept private.’
Bethany, 24, started sleeping with her boss five years ago, when what was supposed to be a work night out turned into one-on-one drinks.
Now, four-and-a-half years later, the pair are still together and have just bought their first home.
But it wasn’t without its difficulties.
‘We kept it a secret for month,’ Bethany tells Metro.co.uk. ‘We just tried to act normal at first and pretend like nothing was going on – we didn’t want to tell everyone and make a big deal and tell everyone until we knew ourselves it was serious.’
But when they finally told their senior manager, who was Bethany’s boss’s boss, she hit the roof.
‘She said that we had gone against company policy, that we wouldn’t be able to ever work on shift together again, that it wouldn’t work, and that it would end up in tears,’ Bethany tells us.
She calmed down not long after, and the two were allowed to work together again (meaning Bethany was able to take an extra 10 minutes for her break with no questions asked).
As for regrets? Bethany says she has none.
Can you get fired for sleeping with your boss?
While sleeping with your boss (or any coworker) is not against the law, it may be against company policy.
If this is the case, and you get caught, at least one of you is likely to be disciplined, at the very least.
‘Your workplace relationship rules should always be outlined in your company’s handbook,’ explains former Fortune-200 chief human resources (HR) officer and founder of a global HR consultancy firm, Rita Trehan.
‘When you sign your employment contract, there’s usually a clause that mentions that by doing so, you’ve agreed to have read the employee handbook and agree to the terms.
‘If these terms are broken, then HR may get involved – and if the company has a strict zero-tolerance policy then your employment may even be terminated.’
One high profile example of this was when McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook was fired for having a consensual relationship with his employee.
Conflict of interest policies
Other companies may allow workplace relationships, but they’re likely to have a conflict of interest policy you’ll need to comply with.
‘Conflict of interest policies are often used to manage personal relationships between staff members to ensure there is no disproportionate treatment of one individual because of the relationship,’ says HR consultant Shona Hamilton-Higgins.
‘What often happens in these situations is another manager is asked to assume responsibility for managing the employee to avoid any accusations of favouritism, etc.
‘For example, it would be inappropriate for your boss to be signing off your holidays and agreeing your pay increase whilst you are engaged in a sexual or romantic relationship, because that creates the opportunity for your boss to abuse their power.’
For Scarlett, who found herself in a relationship with her boss, who was 11 years her senior, while she was completing an internship aged 24, things were a little different.
‘There was a lot of chemistry,’ she tells us.
But, she admits, ‘there was always a huge power imbalance’.
Rather than getting preferential treatment, Scarlett found that her boss was much harder on her than on her other colleagues.
‘He didn’t want anyone to question whether I was getting preferential treatment,’ she says.
‘The overlap between work and our relationship was also difficult,’ she adds.
‘Work would come up a lot when we were just enjoying time together, and he would ask things like: “Did you get this done?” which I found infuriating.’
Scarlett eventually left the company two years into the relationship and the pair broke up not long after.
But Scarlett still used the NGO office as her coworking space, which is where the stickiness arose.
‘I offered to leave when we broke up and he said no, but then he would never come into the office,’ she says.
‘So people would ask me if I knew what was going on and I felt very pressured because I knew the director wasn’t coming… and it was because of me.’
Eventually, Scarlett’s ex asked her to stop coming into the office.
As Bethany and Scarlett’s experiences show, a relationship with your boss can be done, but it’s not without complications – and keeping your relationship in the bedroom and out of the boardroom is imperative.
On the question of morality, it well and truly depends.
If you’re sleeping with your boss in the hopes of receiving a promotion, that’s another story entirely, and you’re likely to be crossing a moral line somewhere along the way.
But if the chemistry and even love is real? It’s doubtful.
‘I don’t think it was immoral,’ says Scarlett. ‘I think it was just a complicated situation, because we both really fell in love.’
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