Consent and relationships between co-workers: What to know

It’s not illegal for office workers to date, but some companies prohibit it because they just think it’s too problematic. They may be worried about favoritism, allegations of harassment and things of that nature. The owners of the company just want their workers to focus on their jobs.

But with many companies, relationships are allowed as long as they are consensual. Couples may have to inform HR about their new relationship, or they may simply be allowed to enter and exit relationships as they see fit. As long as both people consent to that relationship, there’s no problem with it.

But one important thing to remember is that consent for this type of intimate relationship can always be withdrawn. It doesn’t apply forever, and it doesn’t apply in every situation. If it is withdrawn, the other person must respect that decision.

How could this lead to problems?

One example of how this could be a problem is if two office workers start a consensual relationship and then have a falling out. They break up, and one of them feels slighted or perhaps wants the relationship to continue. This person then starts sexually harassing their coworker – perhaps with unwanted touching, obscene jokes or derogatory comments – on the job, thinking that it is OK because they had an intimate relationship in the past. But this past relationship never gives someone permission for these future actions, so they could certainly still be accused of serious harassment.

This situation can get very complicated. Those who find themselves involved need to know exactly what legal steps to take, what their rights are and what options they have at their disposal.

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