Prior Consensual Relationships at Work: Harassment & Retaliation

Prior Consensual Relationships at Work: Harassment & Retaliation

Depending on your employer, interoffice relationships may be tolerated, frowned upon, or even prohibited. That said, it is not uncommon for couples to meet at work and develop personal relationships. In many cases, these relationships can be beneficial to the individuals involved and the company at large, but there are also times when this is not the case at all.

Romantic relationships can end, after all. When such a relationship between two employees at the same company ends, it can create a very complicated legal situation in its wake. This is no less true than when an individual who was involved in a romantic relationship experiences harassment from their former partner. Complicating things further, individuals may even experience retaliation at work when their former partners are their supervisors or other higher-ups at the company.

What Is a Prior Consensual Relationship at Work?

A prior consensual relationship is a personal relationship between two employees that was consensually entered into by each individual. Such relationships may be ongoing or may have ended, but any relationship between two employees can bear a great amount of significance in the workplace regardless of its status.

Harassment from a Previous Dating Partner in the Workplace

If you work at the same company as a former partner, you may experience harassment from them that you should report to your employer. While you may have welcomed certain behaviors while you were in a relationship with this person, your prior consensual relationship does not mean you lose your right to be protected against harassment and sexual harassment.

Examples of workplace behavior you do not have to tolerate include the following:

  • Sexual advances
  • Touching of any kind
  • Sexually charged comments
  • Explicit text messages or social media interactions, even beyond the office

If your former partner fails to cease their behavior, and your employer fails to adequately intervene after you report their behavior, you may have a hostile work environment claim.

Retaliation from a Former Partner in the Workplace

Although a previous partner may engage in unlawful retaliation no matter their level of seniority, you are more at risk of this violation when this person is your supervisor or another individual who can make decisions that impact your employment.

Retaliation in the workplace is unlawful when motivated by discrimination or a protected activity. If a former romantic partner seeks to hurt you through your employment, you may have a legal claim on the basis of sex discrimination or reporting unwanted behavior from them. 

Keep in mind that retaliation can take on many forms, including these:

  • Termination
  • Loss of benefits
  • Reduced hours
  • Threats
  • Verbal or physical abuse
  • Unreasonable expectations/setting you up for failure
  • Denied raises or advancement
  • Bullying

Any mistreatment you experience at work may be considered unlawful retaliation when a previous dating partner is responsible. This individual does not have to be directly responsible for this mistreatment, either. If a former partner is close friends with your supervisor, for example, their influence could motivate your supervisor to act unfairly toward you.


Prior consensual relationships in the workplace can be a sensitive and legally complex matter. If you believe you experienced mistreatment at work because of a prior consensual relationship with a coworker, you may have a legal claim and can seek compensation. It is important to act fast so that you can preserve your best possible chances for success.

For more information about validating your claim, reach out to Sexual Harassment Employment Attorneys today for help.

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