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Sticky Situations: I Saw My Boss Kissing My Colleague

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Sticky Situation:
Our office closed on December 23 and will reopen on January 3. Following that last workday of the year I met my husband at one of our favorite eateries to kick off the holiday festivities. While following the hostess to our booth, I saw my boss kissing my East Coast counterpart as they were leaving their table. They are both single. As their lingering lip embrace concluded they turned around and both looked up at the hostess and then me. I guess they felt my gaze.

We were less than an arm's length away so they could not ignore us or assume that I never saw them pucker up. Our company has a strict no-dating policy. Startled, they exchanged holiday wishes with my husband as I did the usual introductions. I don't have contact with either of them outside of work. Now, I am wondering if I should do or say anything when we come back to work in the New Year?

Solution:
With employees spending 40 per cent or more of their waking hours at work, your teammate and boss are among the 31 per cent of Canadian workers who have had an inter-office romance at least once in their career.

As the basis of their relationship, employees of the same company within a department often share similar education and work experiences. These two commonalities can lead to similar values which is an attractive factor when it comes to choosing a companion.

Today's employees, both men and women, work within close physical proximity in shared offices. They speak during breaks, get together after work, and travel out of town together. The contemporary workplace offers many opportunities for connecting professionally and personally.

To avoid discomfort and liability, many companies like yours have put in place dating policies. In your particular Sticky Situation, the discomfort did not occur in the workplace and from what you have shared with me, there does not appear to be any liability issues.

Although your colleagues have managed to keep their relationship a secret at work without displaying favouritism, (which I presume since you have not mentioned otherwise) they have now exposed their liaison, unwillingly, to a colleague.

The knowledge of their relationship puts you in an ethical situation because of your company's no-dating policy. Otherwise, your knowledge of this inter-office romance would not put you in a moral dilemma. You would still be uncomfortable come the New Year, but you would not be wondering about the repercussions of spilling the beans about their professional and social bonds being intertwined.

Whether or not one's place of work has such a policy, the desire to spread the word and gossip should be avoided at all costs. Actually, in the bigger scope of civility at work, as an Etiquette Expert, I often like to remind professional etiquette workshop participants that gossip has another word in it: go.

That is exactly what one should do when the opportunity to gossip presents itself. Gossiping makes you appear untrustworthy and unprofessional. People will wonder what you say about them when they are not present.

Having witnessed this clandestine rendezvous, you are now wondering what to do or say about your two office lovebirds.

In these tough economic times, telling either one of them what you saw or even telling HR could have severe repercussions including a dismissal. If you had not been aware of any favouritism or unprofessional behaviour prior to this lip smacker, my guess is their work performances will continue forward just as before.

Pretending you never saw anything may also translate into not doing anything about it while letting time and events take their course. What you witnessed does not impact you. Plainly stated: it is just none of your business. In terms of etiquette or civility at work, even without a no-dating policy you would not revisit their intimate moment. So why do it now? My recommendation would be for discretion.

In the future, should you witness unprofessional behaviour or favouritism from the new couple, I would then encourage you to tell HR. If needed -- but only as a last resort -- mention what you saw at the restaurant.

If the couple starts to act inappropriately, you do tell HR, and feelings of remorse start to surface, keep in mind that since they got busted by you, the couple also had options. They could have maintained their professionalism and informed HR themselves so that one of them could have switched companies or ended their relationship.

Be professional and civil; don't tell. Keep it to yourself unless it affects your work or team dynamics.

Send your Sticky Situation to Julie at julie@etiquette.com and she will promptly reply with a Solution within 48 hours.

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