Do I need to disclose my workplace relationship? Ask HR

It is probably wise to check your company’s handbook to see if there is a policy requiring you to disclose a workplace relationship to HR or your manager. (Photo: Milenko Bokan, Getty Images)

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.

The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.

Question: I have recently entered into a romantic relationship with one of my colleagues. This person is a manager, which is higher than my role, but this person is in a different department. Do we have to disclose our relationship to HR? – Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: Short answer: It depends. Many employers have policies addressing workplace relationships and can require you to disclose this to HR upfront – especially if it poses a conflict of interest or could impact the organization’s bottom line.

I’ll note your situation isn’t unusual. As I write this, more than one-third of U.S. workers have been in or are currently involved in a workplace romance, and a majority (75%) have not disclosed their relationship to their employer.

That said, my first piece of advice is to check your company’s handbook to see if there is a policy requiring you to disclose a workplace relationship to HR or your people manager.

Typically, if a relationship involves a supervisor (even if they are in a different department), there may be stricter requirements under an employer’s policy due to their higher level within the organization.

I want to emphasize these policies are often put in place not to throw a wrench or meddle in your relationship, but to protect employees from favoritism, retaliation and incidents of sexual harassment. They also help establish guidelines to maintain a professional work environment during office hours.

Given the average person spends about 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime, HR and people managers know workplace romances are bound to happen from time to time.

In your case, while it might be an awkward conversation, it’s in you and your partner’s best interest to be responsible, open, and honest with your employer about your relationship.  

Best of luck to you!

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Q: I am a junior in college and am starting to think seriously about my career. However, with the pandemic, how do college students like me find internships when everyone is working remotely? – Anonymous

Taylor: Thanks for writing, and I applaud you for already thinking ahead about your career.

The pandemic has turned all parts of work, including internships, upside down. The good news is that many internships, like jobs, are being done remotely for the time being, so there are definitely opportunities available.

The remote factor shouldn’t stop you from seeking out an opportunity you feel would be a good fit. With this in mind, I have a few pieces of advice as you begin your search.

1. Make the connection. I encourage you to look into any student associations related to your areas of interest. Often, these organizations can connect you to alumni who work at companies you’re interested in. Online platforms like LinkedIn are also great ways to establish virtual connections and may lead to opportunities to get your foot in the door.

2. Be flexible. Don’t let a remote position keep you from applying to internships. In fact, this new normal might lead to new possibilities, such as landing an internship in another state or country that might not have been feasible before. Additionally, be open to jobs without the word “internship” in the title. By that, I mean don’t rule out seasonal, temporary, or remote work. These can offer experiences to bolster your résumé for a future internship or post-graduate job of your dreams. 

3. Be creative. Instead of searching for what others can do for you, flip the script and explore volunteer opportunities. This allows you to make new connections and help others in need, all while gaining applicable workplace experience. 

Remember, employers are looking for individuals who can adapt, are dependable, and are willing to learn – especially during the challenging times we’re facing today. Above all, do your research, keep your head up, and be confident in your abilities.

I hope you find an opportunity that gives you the experience you’re looking for!

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