Share via Email Playing fast and loose with your colleagues could damage your reputation. Having an affair with a colleague can add a dash of romance to the daily grind, or it can be lethal to your career.
Just ask Paul Wolfowitz, who was pressured into resigning as president of the World Bank last month in the wake of revelations he had secured a new pay package for bank employee Shaha Riza, who also happened to be his girlfriend. But fear of the consequences doesn't tend to deter office Romeos and Juliets.
Nearly six out of 10 workers in the UK have been "intimate with a colleague on a regular basis", according to a survey by careers website Monster. As the long-hours culture tightens its grip, your job may be your best chance of finding your future life-partner. You may be a steely career person on the outside, but underneath you're only flesh and blood. I know my rights So how do you conduct an office romance without either you or your partner losing your jobs?
The good news is that the American-led trend towards insisting employees sign "love contracts" to regulate office affairs, or even banish them altogether, has floundered in the UK, says Sally Humpage, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
Love contracts are an attempt to get the employer off the hook, says Hannah Reed, senior employment rights officer at the TUC. Some reshuffling of duties may be in order if you want to avoid friction and resentment among colleagues. Wallace, who met her husband at work, says couples should protect themselves by dealing with each other on strictly professional terms. Don't talk about your job when you get home either, otherwise the office can become your life.
My partner is more senior but he's not my line manager, so I don't feel obliged to tell anybody," she says. But keeping an office affair quiet is hard work. Your colleagues don't want to catch you snogging in the lift or fumbling in the stairwell, especially if they've just had their lunch. Getting physical could also put you in breach of the implied term of "good faith" that says staff conduct should act in the best interests of the company, says Sally Laughton, employment solicitor at Andersons Solicitors in Nottingham.
Holding hands or briefly kissing may be seen as inappropriate but won't justify dismissal, whereas more explicit behaviour might. Same-sex workplace relationships can be particularly problematic because they alert colleagues to your sexuality and expose you to banter or worse. Sexual orientation regulations, introduced in the Equality Act , make it illegal for employers and other groups to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation, so you have plenty of legal protection.
Speak to your manager if the jibes become too much or descend into abuse. Companies are legally liable for the behaviour of their staff and could face litigation if they don't take action. You can survive an office affair, but don't play fast and loose with either your colleagues or your partner because that could damage your reputation and make your working life embarrassingly awkward.
And finally, be proud of your relationship. For style, it may not rival Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie falling in love on the set of Mr and Mrs Smith, but it's likely to be more glamorous than John Prescott's clinches with his diary secretary Tracey Temple.
Case study An office romance can cause friction at work, but the trouble really starts when the relationship breaks down, as year-old advertising executive David Shepherd not his real name discovered. A couple of weeks after he started seeing a colleague she was transferred to his tiny department. Disagreements at work spilled over into our home life, and vice versa.
And there she was Monday morning, sitting at the desk next to mine.