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Research Reveals Rise in Interoffice Romance

By Alan Kopit, Attorney

Forget speed dating or Internet personals; love may be lurking just a cubicle away.

Forty-one percent of employed Americans ages 25-40 have admitted to having engaged in an office romance, according to a joint survey sponsored by GLAMOUR magazine and lawyers.com, the most comprehensive and trustworthy online resource for finding a lawyer.

Co-worker canoodling appears to be on the rise, the Harris Interactive® survey revealed. The vast majority of employed adults (76%) say that they think office romances are more common today than they were 10 years ago. Sixty-six percent of those who think office romances are more common today than they were 10 years ago believe it's because there are more women in the workforce; 59 percent list a relaxing of taboos as a key reason, while 51 percent cite longer hours.

Among employed adults, not all interoffice romances are believed to be acceptable. While those among peers are widely accepted (75%), relationships between management and subordinates are still considered unacceptable. Only 14 percent say dating one's own manger is acceptable, and just 18 percent approve of dating a subordinate.

Despite the discomfort around boss/employee dating, fewer than one in three (28%) employed adults view sexual harassment accusations as the greatest danger associated with interoffice dating.

"Dating a co-worker can start out as a consensual relationship, until the relationship ends. One person may get upset and claim they were forced into the relationship, or that they didn't get a raise or a promotion because of a breakup," notes attorney Alan Kopit, lawyers.com's legal editor. "The line between a harmonious relationship and sexual harassment can be thin when it comes to office politics."

Sexual harassment in the workplace

One-quarter (26%) of employed adults believe they have experienced sexual harassment at work, according to the survey. While half of them (52%) have taken action, such as reporting the behavior, confronting the harasser or quitting their job, nearly half of those who say they have been harassed have done nothing about it (48%). Of those who took no action in response to being sexually harassed, the most common reason given for not acting is the feeling that nothing would happen even if they spoke up (22%).

"Often sexual harassment will stop if you confront the person. However, if you're not comfortable confronting them, document the situation," advises Kopit. "Then consult your employee handbook about the procedure for reporting, and decide if you want to speak to your employer/supervisor or the human resources department about the situation.

"On the other hand, if you're being accused of sexual harassment and you don't think you've done anything wrong, check your company's policy on sexual harassment and determine your need for a lawyer," advises Kopit. "Employees must realize that their own opinion of their actions is not the determining factor. An employer is obligated to investigate an allegation of harassment, and, if they determine that harassment took place, the employer is obligated to take action to stop the harassment. That can mean anything from a verbal warning through termination. Even if a clear determination isn't possible, the employer may still take action against the accused."

Part of the problem in defining harassment may lie in the fact that there is little consensus on whether sexually implicit actions constitute harassment. The vast majority of employed adults (93%) recognize that being threatened with their job for not performing sexual favors for their supervisor of the opposite sex is clearly sexual harassment. However, over a third surveyed (34%) say being asked on a date by their supervisor of the opposite sex is welcome flirting, while 47 percent say it is uncomfortable attention. In addition, 42 percent say being complimented on their body or physique by their supervisor of the opposite sex is welcome flirting, while 36 percent say it is uncomfortable attention.

Working men and working women perceive actions differently

In general, men (66%) appear to be more flirtatious in the workplace than women (52%) and tend to be more tolerant about what is considered flirting as opposed to sexual harassment.

  • Although men are less likely (17%) to experience sexual harassment than women (35%), the ones who have felt harassed are more likely to do nothing in response (60%), versus 41 percent of women.
  • Forty-six percent of men feel that being asked on a date by a female supervisor is welcome flirting, while just 20 percent of women feel that way about being asked by a male supervisor.
  • Sixty-one percent of men believe that being complimented on your body or physique by a female supervisor is welcome flirting, compared to just 20 percent of women when complimented by a male supervisor.
  • Forty-five percent of men say they have had an interoffice romance, compared to 35 percent of women.

Alan Kopit is the legal editor of lawyers.com and partner at the Cleveland-based law firm Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP. He has contributed columns to lawyers.com, focusing on consumer and small business legal issues and his media appearances include MSNBC, CNBC, CNNfn, Bloomberg Television, WEWS-TV Cleveland (ABC), WKYC-TV Cleveland (NBC), WKBC-TV Houston (NBC), Bloomberg Radio, and legal contributor to NBC-TV's Today show. For more information about Alan Kopit, please see his biography.

This survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive®on behalf of LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell's lawyers.com from May 19 to May 26, 2004, using a nationwide sample of 1,747 adults ages 25-40 who are employed and work with at least one other person at their current place of employment. Figures for gender, region, age, education, household income and race/ethnicity were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with actual population proportions. "Propensity score" weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online. In theory with probability samples of this size, one can say with 95 percent certainty that the results have a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points of what they would be if the entire U.S. population of adults ages 25-40 who are employed and work with at least one other person at their current place of employment had been polled with accuracy. This online sample was not a probability sample.

LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell's lawyers.com is the leading lawyer directory on the Web, providing access to more than 440,000 attorneys and law firms nationwide. More than one million searches per month are conducted at lawyers.com by consumers and business people in search of the right lawyer for their needs.

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