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October 7th, 2009
04:13 PM ET

Romance/Sex in the Workplace

Comedian David Letterman's admission to engaging in sexual relationships with female members of his staff raises the question about romance/sex in the workplace.

What's appropriate? Is it ever appropriate? What are the rules? Some argue that even though it was consensual in Letterman's case, lines were still crossed because of the power he holds.

Still, the workplace, like church and school, is where many couples meet and sometimes go on to get married.

This Saturday at 4pm ET, we'll explore the issue from a legal, ethical and practical perspective.

We want to know from you, what are your feelings about relationships in the workplace and what should the rules be?

Leave us your questions, comments and iReports.

Filed under: Anchors • Fredricka Whitfield • Josh Levs
soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. Kristina

    Workplace romance is typically always awkward and not necessary. Sometimes they lead to marriage, however, most of the time it's another dating scene gone awry.

    My friends and I are in our early and mid-twenties. Our rule is no workplace romances. It can hurt your career in the long run, being 'that guy' or 'that girl' doesn't always leave you anymore when you leave a job. We have these glorious things like facebook, myspace and twitter to keep those things haunting us.

    October 7, 2009 at 5:14 pm |
  2. shay weller

    I think Letterman is a pervert. sexual or otherwise. "He is also full of himself."

    October 7, 2009 at 5:28 pm |
  3. Lynne

    I am a woman. I have been treated badly by women superiors worse than any man. All my work problems stem from the women. I also know of a case in Alaska north slope where a women is having sex with alot of men (there are alot more men up there than women) and she got a supervisor position and not qualified for it by having sex with the boss. The other woman in the group was harassed and eventually fired without due cause. She infact did more work and had more experience than the woman that was doing the married men. Yes she chose the married men...safer right one wants to admit that right? She is a sexual preditor and HR knows of the situation and nothing happens even though the woman fired spoke up. The workplace is fraught with sexual problems and much suffering.

    October 7, 2009 at 5:52 pm |
  4. P Conway

    I have yet to hear anything about females in the work place who gravitate naturally to men of power. I have seen this many times over a 15 year period as head of a Human Resources department in a medium sized company. I have had to "peel" them off executives who didn't invite the attention in the first place. Some of the gravitation is unconscious and some is very purposeful. In the David Letterman event, you somehow get the impression that there are these lovely innocents cowering in their cubicle while the "boss" goes on a quid pro quo prowl. Just wondering.................

    October 8, 2009 at 8:11 am |
  5. Evan Margulis

    First off, there is nothing inherently "wrong" with relationships forming in the workplace. For many people, the workplace is an immersive social environment in which like-minded individuals interact on a regular basis. It should be no surprise that such an environment is conducive to the formation of relationships.

    That said, if I were the boss of a company, I would discourage such relationships from forming as they can (and should) be a distraction. I would not fire two people for engaging in a relationship; however, I would ask that they not act "couply" while on the clock. I would ask this because such behavior is divisive – it creates a feeling of an "us" and a "them" that is inconducive to a smooth-flowing workforce.

    Additionally, as an employee, I have tended to avoid company ink dippage because of the complications that would inevitably result. I personally don't need any additional pressure when I'm trying to make deadlines or out-perform my competition.

    However, these are my personal feelings. One may be able to maintain an on-the-job relationship without sacrificing anything at work. Again, if I were boss, I would not prohibit these relationships, though I would discourage them.

    October 8, 2009 at 12:28 pm |
  6. Sandy

    Really? More important issues at hand than this in our country, isn't there? There will always be romance/sex in workplaces...half the married people I know have met their mates at their job. While Letterman is married, he wasn't married at the time of these episodes. I realize that his wife and boy are very important to him and he loves them deeply, you could see that by his apology; however this happens... I use to work at a network news station and it didn't matter if it was a tv personality or anchor or reporter or producer or photographer or editor and it certainly didn't matter if it was male or female, it was a petry dish for sex, love and rock and roll. Actually any attention from one of the TV personalities usually melted any of the lower echelon of the staff. This is between Letterman and his family, enough is enough..

    October 8, 2009 at 2:29 pm |
  7. Sandy

    in reference to my comment above...i would like to see CNN deny this happens..on truthful.

    October 8, 2009 at 2:36 pm |
  8. julia taylor


    October 8, 2009 at 2:52 pm |
  9. Carol

    nothing wrong with it .. just not a good idea.

    October 8, 2009 at 6:20 pm |
  10. D. Baker

    Is it true that Congress just now today passed a bill to extend unemployment benefits 14 more weeks, effective now, in all
    50 states?

    October 8, 2009 at 7:01 pm |
  11. Colleen

    I believe the story right now is the exstortion attempt. We don't know exactly went on about the affairs. until we know get off it! It's all supposotion at this point.

    October 9, 2009 at 10:29 pm |
  12. james anderson

    You gals at CNN can be broad minded about this one–you don't have to worry about the girly boys working there hitting on you–it is not like that everywhere.

    October 10, 2009 at 8:26 am |
  13. Helene

    The issue with David Letterman is not that he dated in the workplace but that he was married at the time of these relationships. The poll you used did not address this.

    October 10, 2009 at 8:26 am |
  14. Kay

    About ten years ago I dated a guy who worked in the same department with me. Things were fine until I broke off the relationship for reasons that had nothing to do with working together. He did not take it well. He brought intimate photos of me to work and sent them interoffice. It got very ugly, I filed sexual harassment charges and he was fired. It was extremely ugly and if I would never do it again if I were single. Fortunately, I'm happily married now to a man I met online many years ago.

    October 10, 2009 at 8:27 am |
  15. Robert & Laura Hutchins

    I worked at Simon Pearce Glass as a young man in the early 80's, The company would put company parts on often. I was interested in this one girl but she was ingaged to get married, the drinking allowed me to get to know her and her with me as well.

    We just had our 24th anniversity! Sept. 28th.

    Never would have happend without the company parties.


    October 10, 2009 at 8:33 am |
  16. Cara HIll

    I met a young man at my job and we wanted to date but did not. Then we met up again at my next job in the same field. We both had just got out of bad marriages. We started going to lunch as two friends re connecting and needing someone to talk to. We then started "dating" without even realizing it. He was a manager so we kept it quiet as much as poosible. People are astute so it began to get out. We finally just brought it out in the open. There were other co-workers who either dated someone there and we even had three married couples where both spouses worked there. The only drawback we found was that we argued about work alot at home or while dating. I was laid off from the company last year when the economy started sliding. That was hard as well. He still works for the same company and the best news yet is we got married last October. So almost one year later I can say thank God i dated in the work place because it landed me the best "paycheck" yet, a wonderful and loving husband and partner for life!

    October 10, 2009 at 8:37 am |
  17. Chidi

    Stay off it. Things could get complicated if the relationship falls out.

    October 10, 2009 at 12:01 pm |
  18. Steven Seaman

    Workplace romance, heck ya! I had many, years ago! It is one of the best places to go fishing!

    October 10, 2009 at 12:44 pm |
  19. Janice from Brooklyn

    Re: Romance in the Workplace

    If a woman is smart she won't admit to having a relationship especially with her boss. Having done it myself I know it always gets out and colors the woman's professional life for years. Even after the man went to another office every advance in my career was assumed to be as a result of my relationship with this man.

    It was only after he left the agency that my career regained its footing. Yeah whenever you put boys and girls together love will happen but I wouldn't recommend it.

    October 10, 2009 at 12:54 pm |
  20. jan potocnik

    I married my boss in December of 1960. We had a beautiful marriage until he passed away in May of 2000. We worked well together in a large workplace, he was manager of electrical engineering dept. and I was on the drawing board. Co-workers were quite understanding and had bets on us as to when we would tie the knot because he was the perenial bachelor. Three years later we finally did it. Two of our four daughters met and married their husbands whom they met in their places of work. So what's the big deal! Knowing what he was going through daily helped me understand and accept his moods and stresses .

    October 10, 2009 at 1:00 pm |
  21. Sharon,Daniel Island, South Carolina

    I had a really bad experience with work place romance. I fell for a co-worker and the feeling was mutual. But our supervisor interfered with the budding romance,spreading rumors,stalking you name it. We later found out that this crazy(supervisor) had done this a number of times. His(supervisor) way of interfering with budding workplace romances was to tell the male in the new relationship that the female of interest was coming on to him and he was just being a good friend by informing him. He also added if you confront her she will deny that its true (DAH).

    October 10, 2009 at 1:19 pm |
  22. Gale

    I met my husband at work. He was faculty, I was staff. As I understand it we were the first faculty/staff relationship that happened at the college. I was a faculty secretary, and he was my 'boss' along with about 20 other faculty members. We have been married for 27 years and he is the first co-worker I ever dated. it was against "my" rules. We used to do crossword puzzles together during lunch in the lunch room. We talked, I NEVER expected it to become romantic. He was my friend.

    October 10, 2009 at 2:30 pm |
  23. scott

    is it appropriate to hide your relationship from everybody at wrok?

    October 10, 2009 at 2:36 pm |
  24. Gale

    Also, didn't David Letterman meet and marry his wife while on the job? That doesn't mean it's okay to have affairs. In all honesty, sex in the workplace may happen both ways. A boss may hint that it would be a good idea, and at the same time, an employee may come onto his/her boss looking for favors.

    Does that mean it's right? No. But it happens, and it happens in both directions - initiated by the one who is the employee and also initiated by the one who is the employer. If they both consent, so be it. If one is coerced into it - it's lawsuit time!

    October 10, 2009 at 2:36 pm |
  25. Sally

    Met my husband at work 30 years ago. While it was looked at as "not the norm", there were alot of others dating-not necessarily getting married. There were two other couples(married) at this time, too. This has been going on a long time!

    October 10, 2009 at 3:06 pm |
  26. Amy Laurent

    In response to office affairs _

    Several years ago, I had an affair with my very handsome, very briliant, married professor. It was exciting until he took me on a getaway to New York. There, while dining in a restaurant, the hostess seated my lover's wife's best friend very close to us. Thus began tremendous heartache for my lover's wife, who ended up in the hospital with psychosomatic stomach pains. I learned we need to consider we may hurt others who have invested a lot of time and trust in their relationships

    October 10, 2009 at 3:06 pm |
  27. RJ

    There is nothing wrong with it. Two people with similar career goals, and most likely similar paths are bound to find some kind of attraction to one another...and who can help falling in love? Let's just make sure it stays outside of the workplace 🙂

    October 10, 2009 at 3:17 pm |
  28. Jerry

    If a company allows office romance of co workers, Is there any legal recource for the faitful spouce and kids that get traded, dumped and leads to divorce for office romance?

    October 10, 2009 at 3:22 pm |
  29. Gingi Olstad

    In July, my son married his coworker in a lovely outdoor wedding! They are both landscape architects and wonderfully suited for each other. In this case, the workplace romance couldn't have turned out better.

    October 10, 2009 at 3:23 pm |
  30. joy559

    Dating in the work place could definitely work. If you have clear bounderies. When you're at work you are co-workers so keep it professional. Not using cute pet names or talking about relationship related issues on the clock. When you're at work you are at work! Now, when you clock out, what you do is your business.

    October 10, 2009 at 3:27 pm |
  31. Ann

    The problem with a workplace romance is the discretion and secrecy required. Who wants to tell anyone about it when its a new thing? Especially when its at work, and you have to be professional. This makes a very handy excuse for someone who might not want you to know they are already involved with someone else. Its very easy to say let's not tell anyone because of work, rather than having to make an excuse so that word does not get back to a significant other. Starting a romance in secrecy is a bad idea all the way around.

    October 10, 2009 at 3:32 pm |
  32. Alison

    Way to go Fredrika–having Max Cleland on your show! We need more people like Max to speak for people. PTSD is a brutal fallout from war that we all keep paying for if we don't help those who suffer from it. Great words Max "...Grace of God and Help of Friends." The President chose well when he appointed you. We need to see Max on CNN more often.
    Thanks for the segment!

    October 10, 2009 at 4:01 pm |
  33. Alison

    The Network is the boss, not Letterman. There are strict rules networks follow under union rules. He couldn't have gotten them fired if he tried. He was a "coworker" to these people.

    October 10, 2009 at 4:05 pm |
  34. Dan Fleury

    Need an assistant, Fredricka? I can email you my resume...

    October 10, 2009 at 4:05 pm |
  35. James

    What the heck is going on with CNN?? You spend a whole day talking about romance but won't talk about World Mental Health Day? Wake up CNN.

    October 10, 2009 at 4:25 pm |
  36. Annonymous

    You guys are dealing with this issue in a HETEROSEXUAL context, but when I was young and first on my own (1977) there were a lot of homosexual bosses I felt were very aggressive in getting me to have sex with them. I noticed a distinct difference in the level of aggression between HETEROSEXUAL and HOMOSEXUAL situations. The business owners also did not have "workplace" policies because many times they were restaurant owners who owned their own businesses.

    October 10, 2009 at 4:32 pm |
  37. Chris Davis

    Can we stop people from eating or breathing in the workplace? Relationships are something that you simply cannot stop from happening. Maybe you can curtail the average workers relationship plans but those in power can and will do what they want.

    When will we realize nature does not have a pause button.

    October 10, 2009 at 4:35 pm |
  38. James Henretty

    Love this topic, how interesting! Now here is something to add...your talking about a man and woman in this situation...take it a step further and now talk about how this effects when it is a gay dating situation. Wow, let me tell you your co-workers can destroy this even if the dating is going well due to it bringing out their beliefs side of your so called "friends in the workplace". Yikes it can get ugly! Please ask one of your experts how you would handle a gay dating situation.

    October 10, 2009 at 4:42 pm |
  39. james

    My wife and were dating when we were both working for a discout store. We new that it was passion and we told the district manager and she want the wedding in the store ,but we had a manager that did not like the Idea and was doing every thing to stop us. we found out that 7 other employee were married and were ingage and working. when we were Ingage . I decide to Quit and let her keep her position. Now over 6 years of marrage we know we were ment for each other and we have 1 child and we still in love

    October 10, 2009 at 4:45 pm |
  40. Jim

    I really like a lady co-worker, yet I have not told her because I do not want her to feel pressured or akward working around me. I am not her supervisor, we are equals. Yet I really do enjoy this lady's company. Should I tell her how I feel, or forever keep it locked up?

    October 10, 2009 at 4:46 pm |
  41. Judy Platt

    What about the woman who begins employment as Vice President of a division in July and by February is off to Florida with the Director of another division – both of whom are married. She is 23 years younger than the 50+ male, the male who has been married 30+ years? She may not have any commitment to her husband, but the male she has had an affair with has children who will no longer speak to their father; the oldest child, a female is only 7 years younger than the girlfriend. The children are hurting.

    October 10, 2009 at 4:52 pm |
  42. Yaroslav

    I work for a multibillion dollar corporate mining company. In my state we have over 7000 workers directly working for us and another 30000 are contracted by us. I know a significant amount of people who are married to a co-worker. That being said not one of them works "together". Because and only because we have like 20 offices this type of work romance is possible.

    My take on this entire thing. When considering falling in love with someone at work #1 thing to look for is a possibility of a breakup. Breakup is extremely difficult when working close together.

    October 10, 2009 at 4:55 pm |
  43. Leena

    What about academic couple hiring? This is very common in natural sciences.

    October 10, 2009 at 4:56 pm |
  44. Wendell

    ARE WE CONFUSED TODAY? The David Letterman situation has nothing to do with romance! This is infidelity from Letterman's perspective and betrayal from the perspective of the woman he was doing. I fail to see what these two had beyond sex and money. Has romance been redefined? If it has, please inform me of the details, cause I missed the memo.

    October 10, 2009 at 4:56 pm |
  45. Jeri

    I had a supervisor who 'took up' with married co-workers, several times. We didn't care if they didn't, but he eventually used his position to give the last favored status. That destroyed a lot of good friendships and created a lot of strife in a very strife ridden job. He eventually quit because he abused his position and got into legal troubles. Our emploer wouldn't do anythingbut when he broke tlaws the state started to look into it.

    October 10, 2009 at 4:57 pm |
  46. Reginald

    Co-workers should be allowed to date there is no conflict of interest.
    Management and staff in the same department should be considered as un-ethical.
    Unless they are in two different departments so that raises or preferential treatment not affect the work place.

    October 10, 2009 at 4:58 pm |
  47. Carla in St. Paul

    This discussion has been offensive and insulting to women. Neither men or women should be allowed to use power for sex.. But why is it that, according to your guests, if a woman has sex she has been used and is only a sexual being. Men can have sex AND be valuable in other ways. I'd like to see a discussion on how sexist this discussion has been and what that says about us.

    October 10, 2009 at 4:58 pm |
  48. irene

    I just got out of a workplace romance and it was the worst decision of my life. The guy whom i was involved with was a manger ,but not in my dept. To me i believed he really was the one,but come to find out i was just a fling until his girlfriend( whom i didn't even know he had one moved into town). I made the decision to tell his girlfriend what happened and he has been making me pay ever since. From what i both heard and saw he is now dating other women on the job. Now these women resent me or look at me with disgust. I would like to defend myself ,but i don't want to come off as crazy. I don't know what he has told them about me. I strongly advise anyone to not date in the workplace because if it doesn't work out it only leads to stress and resentment

    October 10, 2009 at 5:01 pm |
  49. Dave

    There is a wise saying "You should never get your honey where you make your money". I have seen hundreds try over my career and they all crashed and burned. How would you like to have to come to work knowing the person you once loved, and now disdain, you will run into on a daily bases.

    The worse scenarios are as follows:
    1) Dating someone in a authority position (a manager, director) even in a different department. You never no, you might get transferred during a company reorganization
    2) Dating someone in the same department. If it doesn't work, you have to see them everyday.
    3) Dating someone in a different department. You still may run into them.

    It also can be career damaging, hurting your chances for upward mobility, even if your firm does not have a dating policy. They general thoughts would be , If you cannot make sound personal decisions, how could you ever make sound business decisons on behalf of the firm you work for.

    October 10, 2009 at 5:13 pm |
  50. Worried Worker

    I think that office romances are fine as long as they are consensual, but don't think it's ok for Bosses to make advances or make inappropriate comments to their subordinates. This happened to me at work, and it made me feel awful. Since I didn't respond to his advances, I felt as though he was no longer interested in teaching me or allowing me to advance in my career there. He told me that if I didn't like it, I should look for a new job.
    What are my rights in this type of situation, and if he was just fired for a similar situation with another co-worker, how does this affect the outcome? Should I just be happy he is gone? or should I come forward to say what happened to me? -worried worker

    October 11, 2009 at 5:05 pm |