I run a small company and am wondering what the consequences are of starting up a romantic relationship with one of my employees, and how it will affect my business and relationship with other employees.

I know romantic relationships with people who work under you are discouraged, however why are they discouraged?

  • 3
    Hi Dave, I've modified your question to address the concerns raised by @Chad, and have voted to reopen it. If I've changed it too much from your original question, feel free to edit it further or roll back the changes.
    – Rachel
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 15:18
  • 21
    That's easy and it can be answered in three words (so I won't post it as an actual answer) "Conflict of interest".
    – Mark Allen
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 1:03
  • 4
    Even if you are "sure" that you can handle things professionally and keep work and social life separated. Don't forget that a relationship consists of two people. Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 7:45
  • 5
    I knew this PhD guy once. His wife was also a PhD in the same field. They met and started dating when she was studying under him. How could THAT go wrong, right? They probably broke all sorts of university regulations and crossed a bunch of boundaries. But hey, happily married with 2 kids. Like everythign else in life this is a riks/benefit tradeoff. Dating subordinates is almost always a bad idea, except when it's a great idea.
    – MrFox
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 16:15
  • 6
    Now 6 months later have you found out? Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 13:47

14 Answers 14


It is a very risky business. Other employees may end up resentful and there will be a drop of productivity if so. Likely you will treat her differently than the others such as giving her information that she in her current position should not have, refusing to see her performance problems, etc. Likely she will act differently, letting others know she is privileged and that they had better not disagree with her.

I have worked several places where the boss was dating one of the employees and in two out of three cases, it was a cancer in the workplace. In the third case, the couple were able to totally keep their relationship out of the workplace but that meant no displays of affection (or worse closing the office door and having sex where the other employees could hear you), no special treatment in favor of the employee(in fact her promotions got held up and she was held to a much higher standard than the rest of the team), no insider information, and no acting as if you were more important because you were having an affair with the boss. In the worst case, the company lost several valuable employees because they couldn't stand to be managed by the secretary the CEO promoted to be the Project Manager because he was having an affair with her. In the end she lost her job too because he married someone else.

Ok let's be blunt and share some of the negative consequences I have personally experienced or observed from bosses dating their subordinates:

  • I have seen people promoted over qualifed people to jobs they were neither qualified for nor good at.
  • I have seen an unsatisfactory performance appraisal (which was well-deserved) be changed to an Outstanding
  • I have seen more qualifed people quit rather than work for the unqualifed person promoted over them
  • I have seen a co-worker flash her sexual parts in a meeting after she and the boss had had a fight. To say this made everyone else in the room uncomfortable is a mild understatement.
  • I have heard them having sex in his office during work hours which made for very uncomfortable meetings later on the same offce.
  • I have seen a subordinate who had no business knowing about a performance issue with another employee, come to work and brag about how she knew and how much trouble the other person would be in.
  • I have seen bad suggestions implemented because they came from the person who was in the relationship even though all the entire rest of the staff objected to the decision. BTW some of these decisions lost the company a good deal of money.
  • I have seen the entire staff complain to higher managers about a problem which the couple involved vehemently denied was happening. The couple almost always thinks their relationship is causing no issues whatsoever.
  • I have seen the workplace become absolutely toxic when the relationship breaks up until the subordinate finds a another job or is fired.
  • I have seen clients be appalled at the unprofessional behavior a person in a relationship exhibited in front of them and the manager not care to fix the problem because it would disrupt his social life.

If you truly want a relationship with this person the best thing you can do is find him/her another better job in a different company before you start.

  • 16
    I would +1 this just for the last line: "If you truly want a relationship with this person the best thing you can do is find him/her another better job in a different company before you start." The entire answer is excellent. Keep the personal and professional separate by not allowing there to be crossover.
    – Adam V
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 17:23
  • 21
    @DaveM - Dave, Dave, Dave. If you are interpreting this answer as saying "it can work in some cases" then you are hearing what you want to hear right now. Which means you aren't sounding like someone with an exceptional ability to pull something like this off.
    – psr
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 20:03
  • 2
    I'd add something in cases where the relationship is not only "boss"-"subordinate"... If the company has some problem and may fire a lot of people. It's quite possible that both partner will end up with no job at the same time. Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 22:48

Dating an employee is a bad idea for several reasons:

  1. Once it's out that you're dating, anything positive that you do for this employee can appear to be based on non-work-related reasons

  2. If you break up, anything bad that happens to her can appear to be based on non-work-related reasons

  3. It can bring non-work-related issues into the office

In short, there's a reason that many large companies explicitly state in their employee handbooks that supervisors can't date the employees they supervise, and if you run the company, you supervise everyone.

  • 15
    I would change the can appear to will appear.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 15:51
  • 4
    I would also add that in some types of jobs, having partners who are dating or married in particular roles can enable a number of internal control problems that could cause substantial injury to the company. For example, when one partner handles revenue/expense accounting and the other handles cash inflow/outlay. The
    – JAGAnalyst
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 19:11
  • If you do something nice for someone, it can always appear to them or others as if it was instigated for non-work reasons. No good deed ever goes unpunished.
    – JustinC
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 18:42

It's very simple. Dating someone who reports to you creates obvious conflicts between personal interests and business obligations. Every action you take regarding your romantic partner will be suspect. Worst of all, the subordinate party may feel pressure to continue the relationship for fear of consequences in the workplace. For that reason, most US companies prohibit romantic relationships between a supervisor and a subordinate.

Even attempting to initiate such a relationship creates problems. The subordinate may reasonably believe that rejecting the invitation will have adverse consequences at work.

Relationships between colleagues may be OK, but could still cause problems if one party has a higher position in the company, due to the influence the more senior person may have with the junior's supervisor.

  • 5
    Yes I forgot to say that. The person can feel at risk of losing her job if he asks her out and she isn't interested or if she wants out and he doesn't. (you could of course use different sets of personal pronouns, this is just the most common scenario of the supervisor being male and the subordinate being female.)
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 19:17
  • 1
    @HLGEM: damn political correctness :-)
    – Lie Ryan
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 11:15
  • @HLGEM Trying using "s/he" - it's awesome!
    – MrFox
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 16:10

Ask yourself "how many people have I dated in my life?"

lets say you've dated 10 people. Since you are again dating, this indicated that at least, your success rate at finding a permanent partner are less than 10%.

How many of those relationships ended badly or turned ugly? Lets say its 3/10. for a 30% chance of it turning ugly.

So in other words... There's at least a 90% chance it wont work out and a 30% chance it will turn ugly. Adjust these statistics to your own personal experience. Chances are, however you slice it, you are making a gamble and you do not have the edge.


As it was once explained to me by a lawyer some time back.

In the US dating in the workplace potentially falls under the case law of sexual harassment. The issue is basically the following:

  • 2 of the companies employees are dating or even possibly get married working for the same company
  • Then they break it off or divorce.
  • Once that happens one of the parties involved can claim sexual harassment against the other and under some state and federal statutes the company may be held liable.

Given that potential scenario the companies discourage dating in the workplace to the point of making it a cause for firing an employee.

The dating of employees within the company is usually allowed by a special dispensation from Human Resources after a consultation with lawyers. And usually involves some paperwork to protect the company from scenario I described above.

  • 6
    Dear [grumpy HR manager]. I want to go out with Jane tonight. And I would want to inform you that... uhhmmmm, I would want to kiss her. Can you please give me a [special dispensation] for this? Thank you! I may come back again later...
    – Sam
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 15:56
  • 1
    @vasile Welcome to the murky legal world. :) Happy dating! :)
    – Karlson
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 16:08
  • 2
    Karlson, thank you for sharing this response, however, I am skeptical whether this is an accurate statement of the law. I note that you have no citations to reputable sources, and you yourself are not a legal expert, which to me makes the answer of dubious reliability. (It may be accurate to say that "one of the parties can claim sexual harassment", but anyone can claim anything at any time. That doesn't mean the employer will actually be held liable.) I would advise against relying upon a second-hand description of legal advice someone once received.
    – D.W.
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 22:33
  • 1
  • 1
    @Karlson, those are very nice links, but they don't contradict anything I wrote. Bottom line: this is not a simple subject, and people should generally be wary of taking legal advice based upon answers here. I suspect you are not qualified to give legal advice, and taking legal advice based upon someone's second-hand recollection of what a lawyer once told them is not a wonderful idea, either. (I'm sure there is some truth to your answer, but my understanding is that the situation is a bit more complex than your answer indicates.)
    – D.W.
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 3:45

It's a bad idea because you cannot represent the organization's business interests properly in your role as boss, with respect to that person. You are likely to favor that person regardless of their performance in their job.

Since you run this small company, this might not be a problem. Your company, your rules, right?

But suppose you ran a very large company. Would you want your lower level managers supervising people who are their significant others? Or nephews, nieces, cousins, ...?

There is a word for this: nepotism.


I'm surprised that no-one has cover the power differential yet.

How can you be 100% certain that your subordinate shares your feelings?

Because if they don't, and you approach them, the subordinate may rightly think that saying no could harm them professionally. The reason why employer/subordinate as well as teacher/student relationships are frowned upon is they can easily be seen that the senior person is taking advantage of their position. If pressured to enter a relationship or even just hearing your advances can be considered sexual harassment in most jurisdictions.

Regardless of what you think, you hold a position of power over your staff and you must respect that. Unfortunately, what you need to do is nothing. Don't bring it up... at all. Even mentioning that you had considered it can cause tension. Your feelings are your problem, and should be professional enough to not make your staff subject to unwanted advances.

  • Yes, thank you. Came here to say this. Commented Apr 10, 2021 at 12:29
  • I know this question and answer are very old, but it baffles me this isn't the highest-voted and accepted answer. "Underling, I need you to fix the TPS report in the Initech account, and tighten up the graphics on level 8!" "Sure thing, boss, whatever you say!" "Also, would you like to have dinner with me on Saturday and go to the cinema to watch a romantic movie, maybe come back to my place after?" "Uh... sure thing, boss, whatever you say..." Just an absolute world of bad ideas. Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 14:38

You mentioned "I run a small company". Means you may be the founder/Chairman. You are the person most respected in the company. By falling in love / having romantic relationship (sounds cheap, I'm sorry if it hurts you) may end up losing your prestige, dignity, respect. Because if you are in love and want to date and get married that will be great. But just "Romantic relationship which wont la(u)st long I won't recommend you to go on with such a decision.

  1. By losing respect, the value for your voice ll go down and to get optimum productivity you ll have to force the employees.
  2. You may earn lots of people to speak and spread rumors about you... that's nonsense.
  3. lot more to say.

To maintain your value in organization, if you still have a huge crush on her, ask her out for a date and tell her things, if you have good thoughts get her a good job in some other company using your contacts. Then you can date her, she will like you for your gentleness.


I'm gonna be very honest and serious with you on this one. It's highly unlikely that the situation will have a good ending. There is a chance but it's a very small chance that things will not end up catastrophically for both or either of you.

A certain level of unprofessionalism will be displayed by one or both of you, which will disturb the workplace and might cause problems with your clients.

Please accept this as a very sincerer advice. Looking at the wording of your original question, I'm almost certain that you will display unprofessional behaviour and in turn cause disturbance in the workplace.

  • Thanks @addi for yor answer. However, I'm curious that what exactly made you think that I would cause disturbance and unprofessional behaviour?
    – Dave M
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 22:44

The OP is asking why it is bad between subordinates, not why it is bad at the work place. The issue is one of perception. Many will perceive that the relationship is not one of mutual, personal romance. But instead a relationship based on leveraging company opportunities and company money for manager's dating opportunities.

If you think that having a poor perception of both your company and your relationship with this person is acceptable, then go for it. Otherwise try to tackle the whole not dating your subordinates lifestyle first, to at least look like you don't need to leverage your ownership/managerial position for dating.

Lastly, keep in mind that some people do come into companies with the open mindedness of dating their coworkers. Others already have relationships or established dating lives or do not want to date anyone. There are many different perspectives and differences in the workplace. Bare that in mind. Someone people only want to work for your company for money making opportunities only, and will see this as a poor decision. They do want to see you happy in your dating life, but they don't want to see their firm's reputation suffer because they have families/wives they need to provide for. Try to think about all those decisions BEFORE you think about your situation. It's not an easy one to make.


There are some good answers here from the company point of view, but look at it from the human point of view, too:

1) Do you really know the other person is interested in you, or is it just a shared interest in the type of work that you do? I know I leave a great deal of my personal interests in the parking lot when I arrive to work. I focus on my work and ensuring that I am supporting my coworkers and meeting my objectives. I don't bring much else. Since you are a business owner, I imagine you are much the same. Your employee may also be the same, meaning everything you see about them "lines up" with you, but you are both (likely) leaving a huge amount of who you are outside the workplace unexamined. How do you even know you would be compatible?

2) You have authority over the other person at work. How could you ever have a relationship of equals when you have power over their means to make a living? The power dynamic in a relationship can get really messed up if there is a disparity in income between the two. You are the income source for the other person. How could you ever hope to have an equal, balanced relationship?

3) What happens if they get a good job offer from a competitor? You would feel personally betrayed if they took it. They would be resentful if they didn't take it because of this relationship.

4) Their relationships with their coworkers at the office would be devastated. No one would ever have a "gripe session" about the company with them. No one would trust them with any confidence, believing (and rightfully so) they were more loyal to you than anyone else. I'm sure you're the world's greatest boss, but running a business means making your employees unhappy in order to satisfy your customers. That's why you have to pay employees in the first place. Would you avoid giving them difficult assignments or "problem" customers in order to safeguard your relationship. Maybe not consciously, but it would happen.

5) You would never evaluate them equally, again. "Bob" is always late, so you discipline him. Your interest is always late, but you cut them some slack because you took them out the evening before and you feel it's partially your fault. Bob isn't getting a fair shake.

Look at it from the relationship side, and not just the company side.

Now, the only way to fix this is to not work at the same company. Who has to leave and who gets to stay? Who gets to pick? In your case, you and the company are the same thing, but not so in most situations.

Say I'm a rock-star senior salesman, been in the biz 20 years and have 5 or 6 million in annual sales that I bring in. You're an inside sales rep who answers to me supporting my customers. We get serious, and it becomes a problem in the workplace. You would have a hard time finding another job in a slow economy, but I can hop over to "Brand X" and bring at least 2 million in sales with me. Brand X says, "Great. Welcome aboard." The first company now just lost a good salesman, $2 million in business, and has an inside sales rep with questionable loyalties that "cost" them all of the above. How do you think your chances of promotion are, now?

That's why intra-office dating is never a good idea. Working with a spouse is another potential disaster, but for entirely different reasons.


In the case of two people who happen to be employed by the same company, but don't have any work relationship, it's mostly Ok, at least as long as their relationship is fine, and even after that, if they manage to separate cleanly - which many people manage to do, and if one or both can't, then you had troublesome people anyway. The exception is companies that are very security conscious, for example a bank, which may have lots of protections against crooked employees, but not against two crooked employees working together.

In the case of supervisor and subordinate: That is asking for serious trouble, because that supervisor is always in danger of giving preferential treatment to their relationship, which then will cause trouble for everyone involved and around them. So a company will try to split them up. Which will hamper someone's career. Which is Ok-ish if you are getting married (I would still have married my wife if it had cost one of us our jobs, and she would have married me), but for a fresh relationship that is very bad.

In the case of company owner and subordinate: For the subordinate it's a very dangerous game. Worse than supervisor and subordinate, because there is no HR or boss stopping the company owner, if things go wrong. For the boss it's a huge opportunity to demonstrate either that he or she is a decent human being, or that he or she is no such thing. Either way. The sequence owner dates employee / owner and employee split up / employee leaves the company will be (1) very unfair and (2) very, very bad for morale. (In the case of supervisor: supervisor dates subordinate / supervisor and subordinate split up / supervisor tries to get subordinate fired / supervisor loses his job is probably good for morale). The sequence owner dates employee / owner and employee split up / employee stays and is permanently grumpy isn't good either. So this should only be done if both sides are really, really sure that this is the one.

On the other hand, if two people seriously want to be in a relationship, their jobs shouldn't stop them. In that case you both do your best to stay professional while persuing your relationship, and accept the consequences.


My wife at the time, hired an ex-girlfriend as a clerk in the accounting department (which she ran) at our company that I was President. My operations and finance managers resented her because we talked. On the other hand she told me stuff that I would not otherwise have known about my two managers. The situation simmered for a while and they constantly harrassed her. Finally she quit and filed a law suit against the company for sexual harrassment. I was thinking that this was odd, that I never harrassed her and our previous relationship was in the past and we were on friendly but professional terms. Then I looked at the statute and realized that because of our past relationship, two people in her management chain had harrassed her. I paid out the claim, fired my lawyers and the two managers. The ex-girlfriend used it to put her daughter through college which I could feel more positive about than paying lawyers. I fired another manager some time later who harrassed a young man he hired in the warehouse using sexual language and generally referring to him as "Porky". The manager thought it was all in good fun. I talked to the young man and he was very hurt by the harrassment and did not think it was funny. I fired the manager though he was a close friend because it was the right thing to do. I am not sure if what he did qualified as sexual harrassment but it was definitely hurtful to the young man and set a very bad example. The sexual innuendo, though not necessarily to be meant literally, was still a part of some very abusive behaviour.


It doesn’t seem to me that anyone has directly addressed the question of why such relations are discouraged.

They are discouraged for multiple reasons, some of which won’t apply to you as the owner/manager of a small company, some of which are even more applicable to you than they would be for a larger company.

A few of the reasons:

  • There is an inherent power imbalance, making it at least questionable as to how voluntarily it is. As the owner, this is both less and more relevant to you. You don’t have to worry about whether a subordinate was abusing their power, but also as the owner of a small company have absolute power over the other persons employment and thus, whether you intended it or not, your interest may feel pressured or threatened. As an owner, you get to decide how to handle this.
  • The company can be held liable for problems resulting from the relationship. This is much less of an issue for you as the owner, because to an extent, the company is at risk with any relationship you have. A marriage and a messy divorce could break up the company whether your spouse worked for the company or not. So, it’s not that the company is at less risk, it’s that it’s an unavoidable risk.
  • Favoritism/nepotism and employee morale. For you, as an owner, this is mainly an issue during the courtship. In a larger company, there would be concern about raises and promotions and running to the boss to override co-workers. These concerns apply to you as an owner, until such time as you get married. After that, it will be understood that your spouse is co-owner of the company, and so their power will be legitimate. The flip side of that is your spouse will have such power, you should be aware of that. If your company is large enough to have a manager over your spouse, be aware that your spouse will in a sense be that managers boss. Creating a possible conflict of authority.
  • It can lead to judgements based upon the relationship and not the companies best interest. Both by those directly involved as well as co-workers. As the owner, this can be particularly problematic, your employees will be just as concerned about not upsetting your romantic partner as they are about upsetting you, while at the same time resenting that concern, and there’s no one to counter-balance that. In a larger company, if your boss is giving all of the cushy jobs to a fling, you can report that to HR or your bosses boss. As an owner there’s no appeal.

For a large business, it just makes sense to at a minimum frown on it, there’s really no upside for the company. As a small company (particularly if you are a really small company), not only does your happiness trump profit, you can benefit from having a co-owner and manager, even if the other person isn’t as well suited to the task as you. Lots of small businesses are a couple and one or two employees.

And of course as everyone else has pointed out, lots of relationships don’t last. While any relationship you have puts the company at risk, ending a relationship where you continue to interact with the other person on a daily basis, can result in some unpleasantness. Again as the owner of a small company this is particularly relevant. They can’t transfer to another division and neither can you. If this relationship goes south, are you going to fire them?

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .