It is a common belief that love can be found just around the corner. Some of those corners, though, can lead out of the cubicle and down the hall to the break room.
“As we work more and more, it seems more and more people are turning to finding their love in their workplace,” said Kurt Barker, chairman of Karnopp Petersen's employment law department.
Despite the euphoria of finding love, though, there are factors that must be considered when dating a co-worker, supervisor or employee. The company must be aware of possible liabilities and the dating couple should consider what could happen if the romance turns south and they find each other face-to-face at weekly staff meetings.
“Where are you supposed to meet people?” said Carin Cameron, owner of Cork Restaurant&Bar in downtown Bend. “You meet them at bars, at the grocery store, through friends. For me, work is another way. If someone hits it off, more power to them. It's hard to find a mate, and if you're drawn to something like work as a common interest in your lives, then maybe you have something going for your relationship to start it out.”
Thirty-seven percent of workers said they have dated co-workers at some point during their work experience, according to a Valentine's Day survey conducted by CareerBuilder.com.
For many couples, being in a relationship and working together can be a rewarding experience.
A working relationship
Brian and Amanda Albrich worked together at Oregon Home Mortgage in Bend. They knew each other for two years before starting a relationship, which began after he and his business partners began Arbor Mortgage Group and after she joined the new company.
“We spent quite a bit of time together networking for work and so forth, and realized we had a lot in common,” he said. “We started dating without anybody else knowing in the company, including my business partners.”
The couple initially hid their romance to confirm that it was serious. Losing Amanda Albrich as an employee and upsetting the other business partners were concerns for the co-owner. After a few months, though, the couple decided to let their friends and colleagues know.
“Bend is a pretty small town, and they eventually needed to find out about it, after we found out that it was going to work out,” Brian Albrich said.
And it did work out. The couple were married last year and are expecting their first baby this summer.
Amanda Albrich, now operations manager, previously served as processor for Brian Albrich. If a problem or situation arose that might be perceived as unfair by other employees, according to Brian Albrich, then a different business partner would address it.
The couple does not act as if they are in a relationship at work, Brian Albrich said, but they do go out to lunch together.
“We are both just focused on our task at hand,” Albrich said. “We have our relationship at work and our relationship at home and we are able to keep the two pretty separate.”
2 roles: professional and personal
Cameron, Cork's 41-year-old owner, met Greg Unruh, 47, 15 years ago when they worked together at Scanlon's restaurant in the Athletic Club of Bend. They started dating in 1999, initially hiding it so they could get to know each other without interference from other people and because they didn't know how people in the workplace would react.
Two years later, Cameron and Unruh opened Cork. Two years after that, the couple broke up.
“It's like having a dog or a child together,” Cameron said. “After you break up, you are still involved with each other every day and you have to keep a level head and keep plugging along.”
Making decisions about the business was sometimes difficult after the breakup, according to Cameron, but the two were able to maintain professional roles at work. In 2008, Cameron became sole owner of the restaurant.
“We worked together for so many years before we started dating that we had our professional roles figured out, and that's what we fell back on after we broke up,” Cameron said.
Sometimes it is difficult to separate professional and personal roles, though.
“Even if a romantic relationship is going well, it can be a distraction,” said Karnopp Peterson's Barker. “People find it naturally hard to resist the fun of having a personal relationship in the workplace. When it goes bad and if there is potential harassment or pressure after the relationship, it definitely affects performance.”
The company's role
Retaliation and liability for companies could be a problem if a relationship in the workplace fails, Barker said.
“Companies generally are best served to take a proactive approach recognizing that office romance is likely to happen at some point during the company's history, and one of the main points, on a cautionary note, is that even consensual romantic relationships can be a double-edged sword,” Barker said.
During a relationship, favoritism can be an issue, and if a relationship ends, then retaliation is possible.
There are dating policies companies can implement to protect themselves against possible future legal claims, according to Barker.
A “date and tell” policy requires workers who are involved with someone else in the workplace to let human resources or supervisors know there is a relationship and that it's consensual.
“Love contracts” take it one step further. Workers who are engaged in a relationship must sign these contracts. Love contracts can confirm the relationship is consensual and that the employees understand they have to follow guidelines not to allow the relationship to affect the workplace. Another part of the contract may state that an employee can end the relationship without fear of retaliation from the company or the other person involved.
Retaliation can take many forms. It could be as ugly as firing, demoting or cutting someone's responsibilities, Barker said.
A more common form of retaliation is giving the other person the cold shoulder. This can lead to supervisors treating employees they previously dated differently than other workers.
Most companies have a sexual harassment policy, and more employers are adapting dating policies, Barker said.
According to the CareerBuilder survey, 5 percent of workers said they left a job due to a workplace romance. Brian Albrich was afraid that if the relationship didn't work, Amanda Albrich would not want to be around him and the company might lose a valued employee.
Work at home
Relationships may affect work, but the professional sphere also can influence personal relationships.
Viviane Ugalde, 47, and Larry Paulson, 44, work in physical medicine and rehabilitation at The Center: Orthopedic&Neurosurgical Care&Research. The married couple share a job so each can spend more time with their children.
At work, they make an effort to be professional and treat everyone respectfully, Ugalde said. Sometimes, though, work follows the couple home.
“I think one of the bad things is that we do tend to talk about work at home too much and we do make a conscious effort not to talk about it,” she said.
One of the hardest things for Roger Brubaker, 29, and Denise Silfee, 27, is to go home and not talk about what their students did that day. The married couple work at Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council, Brubaker as crew leader and youth employment counselor and Silfee as a teacher in the alternative education program.
At work, they do not hide their marriage. They will joke with each other, but they mainly discuss work-related topics, Silfee said.
“It's good because we are around high school students and we want to be a role model of a good married couple,” she said.
Work can be a positive influence on the relationship, too. It's nice to have someone who knows what is going on, Silfee said, and if the couple has a fight at home, it is hard to stay mad at each other at work because they must act professionally.
Even though their work spaces are only 25 feet away, Brubaker and Silfee are able to do their own jobs at work and concentrate on their personal lives at home. For many couples, that is the key of being able to work together.
“We know how work and home sometimes overlap, but they need to be separate,” Silfee said. “At work we have that extra relationship that other co-workers don't have, but we are at work and work is first. When we are at home, the relationship is first.”