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What Happens If I Get Caught Having Sex at Work?

And other questions you’d rather not ask your own HR Department

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.

A co-worker and I started dating recently and have a tendency to have sex at the office. It started as a matter of convenience, but now it’s become a turn-on. It’s also something I’m not sure our relationship would survive if it stopped. All of which brings me to my question: How much trouble are we in if we’re found out? — David I., Chicago
From an HR perspective, companies don’t have “fornication on the premises” policies, but stupidity and bad judgment aren’t usually called out either. There’s also potential for reputational harm to the company (imagine a customer hears or sees you); violations of general codes of conduct covering respect (yours and others); and just plain getting caught with your pants down (which is grounds for termination for indecent exposure).

And I’m just getting started. First, I’m assuming that neither of you are an indirect or direct manager/subordinate. Otherwise, you’ve got real problems and policy/regulatory violations on your hands. Next, what’s this bullshit “matter of convenience” excuse? Are you really this horny all the time? Or is one or both of you cheating on your partners? If that’s the case, this isn’t only risky but capable of ruining your life. Finally, have you considered the fact that maybe s/he isn’t such an adrenaline junkie and they’re only going along to please you? That instead of being turned on by it all, they could be scared shitless about getting caught and losing their job?

If I were you then, I’d heed the warning of Ryan Air after two of its passengers decided to have sex during a flight from Manchester to Ibiza: “We will not tolerate unruly, disruptive or inappropriate behaviour at any time and any passengers who appear to behave in an unacceptable manner may be liable for further sanctions.”

Given that our society has become super casual, why do so many workplace dress codes still outlaw shorts? — Jeff E., Vancouver
In the not-so-distant past, companies would specify length of skirts, type of heels, jackets and ties its employees could wear. Today, some companies are still specific about gender-neutral dress codes where health, security and safety are requirements — e.g., safety shoes around heavy equipment, long pants around tarring or woodworking and fire-resistant clothes around electrical work. But in office environments where they don’t have to be so prescriptive, most organizations use terms like “respectful, respectable, client appropriate and business casual” as guidelines or provide examples of bare-skin midriffs and pajamas that might be deemed inappropriate.

All of which brings us to shorts. The problem isn’t with the shorts per se, it’s with the butt cheeks contained therein. Too often, shorts edge into midriff territory where there’s enough skin on display to make everyone uncomfortable. Or worse yet, they serve as the unfortunate inspiration for a company-wide manspreading policy. And because regulating short length is arbitrary and complicated, it’s easier to just ban shorts of all types outright — from board shorts that hang below the knees to Daisy Dukes that leave little to the imagination.

You kinda touched on this in a recent column, but I wanted to follow up with a slightly different question: My company is going to be hiring a new employee. My boss likes him a lot, but I used to know him slightly years ago, and well, he was kind of a lunatic back then. He was into drugs, and he dated a good friend of mine, treating her shitty.

On one hand, all of this was long ago. On the other, shouldn’t I say something before we offer him the job? I don’t want to narc on the guy, but I also don’t want to bring somebody into our office who might still be a terrible person. — Ralph E., Salt Lake City
If you can’t speak about a person’s professional abilities, I wouldn’t speak at all. No one is interested in whether a candidate was the beer-chugging champion at the frat house or the best golfer in the neighborhood. This person is being considered for a job based on experience, education, capabilities, competencies and skills so you should volunteer a reference on those attributes only.

Nor is gossip a reference. That means you should frame your feedback with what you know and don’t speculate.

Most likely in cases like these, you’ll be asked if the person is a good cultural fit. Again, be careful how you respond. If you haven’t had meaningful contacts with them in the last three to five years, you’re not qualified to provide an answer. Look in a mirror: You’ve changed during that time frame; they probably have, too.

Long story short: It’s not your role to ruin someone’s life after they’ve turned it around, and your company thinks they’re qualified for the job. Your frame of reference was long ago and far away. So drop it unless you’ve got substantial, real and timely information to intervene with.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.