Can You Be Fired for Dating a Coworker in California?

The average California employee spends more than forty hours a week working, which leaves little time to meet new people and develop a love interest. As a result, many employees find themselves interested in a fellow co-worker and wonder if they are allowed to date their co-workers without getting into trouble, or worse – fired. But can you be fired for dating a co-worker in California? Every case is unique, but generally speaking, you cannot be fired solely for dating a co-worker in California.

Romantic Relationships in the California Workplace

Workplace romances are bound to happen. However, some employers may frown upon co-workers dating one another for various reasons. For one, an office romance could create problems within the workplace concerning favoritism. Or, it could raise a conflict of interest within the business. But, California Labor Code protects an employee’s right to privacy to engage in whatever lawful activity an employee wants while he or she is off the clock and away from work premises. This includes dating a co-worker.

That said, not all co-worker dating relationships are protected. There is California precedent that suggests that employers can prohibit some types of workplace dating relationships. For instance, romantic relationships in the workplace that jeopardize supervision, efficiency, morale or security could all potentially impact the legitimate business interests of an employer, and an employer may be justified in limiting these types of romantic relationships in the workplace.

By way of example, employers have a legitimate business interest in preventing employees who are in supervisor positions from dating employees who are in subordinate positions. In a supervisor/subordinate co-worker relationship, there is an imbalance of power which may generate issues in the workplace. There is the risk that the supervisor will give unfair treatment to a subordinate that he or she is dating or may engage in favoritism. On the flip side, if the dating relationship goes south, the subordinate could assert a claim of sexual harassment or discrimination against the supervisor.

In such situations, a supervisor employee could be fired for violating an employer’s policy against dating subordinates because the employer’s interest in avoiding conflicts of interest in the workplace may outweigh the supervisor employee’s right to privacy concerning the romantic relationship with the subordinate employee.

Dating Co-Workers in California: Protections for Employees

As a California employee, you cannot be fired solely because you are dating a co-worker. While employers are permitted to implement anti-fraternization policies in the workplace, your employer’s control over your off-the-clock life should be limited. If your employer wants to legitimately fire you, there must be another reason above and beyond your romantic relationship. If your romantic relationship does not present a conflict of interest for your employer, and you and your love interest behave professionally while you are at work, then it is unlikely that your employer would prevail if you sought a wrongful termination claim.

Many California employees experience feelings for a fellow employee at work and want to date. If your employer has fired you for dating a co-worker, you can discuss the details with one of the experienced California employment lawyers at Hennig Ruiz. Contact us for a free consultation about your situation today.