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Ask HR: Do I Need to Disclose My Workplace Relationship?

A man in a blue suit posing for a photo.
​Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

I have recently started a romantic relationship with one of my colleagues. They are a manager, which is higher than my role, but they are 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 upfrontespecially if it poses a conflict of interest or could impact the organization's bottom line.                                                                                 

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 percent) 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 he or she is in a different department), there may be stricter requirements under an employer's policy due to the supervisor's higher level within the organization.

I want to emphasize that these policies are often put in place, not to 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 that the average person spends about 90,000 hours at work in his or her lifetime, HR and people managers know workplace romances are bound to happen.

In your case, while the conversation might be awkward, it's in your and your partner's best interests to be responsible, open and honest with your employer about your relationship.

Best of luck to you!


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

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: 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 remote for the time being, so there are definitely opportunities available.

The remote factor shouldn't stop you from seeking out an opportunity that 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, which 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 resume 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 and are dependable and willing to learn—especially during the challenging times we're facing. 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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