7 Career-Ruining Behaviors at the End of an Office Romance

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Although we all know the dangers of going "fishing in the company pond," getting into an office romance may be much easier than getting out of one gracefully. When feelings get hurt and tempers flare, it's inevitable that heated conversations and emotionally charged arguments will ensue -- but having those in the workplace can be a career killer.

Even if you think you and your significant other are level-headed enough to avoid a workplace meltdown or backstabbing, some things are simply out of your control. Experts weigh in on the seven worst ways to end an office romance:

1. Break up at the office

"You may think it sounds crazy, but it happens," says Russ Hovendick, founder of career consultancy Directional Motivation. "Things get so emotionally charged that the discussion can't wait, and you end up having a shouting match at the office."

This most often happens when a couple has a "tenuous" relationship and emotions are at their peak, he says.

"It's not like they came to work that morning preparing to end their relationship, but someone says something to set them off and it escalates, in many cases right in front of people," he says. "Then the question is how your manager will view you after that -- how will they have respect for you when they've seen you have a meltdown?"

In many cases, your boss couldn't care less that your relationship is over -- their real concern is the hindrance of productivity for the rest of the staff.

"Everyone's productivity takes a hit. There's no way it won't have a viral effect in the workplace. Those tensions transcend the borders of your fight -- they affect everyone."

2. Spend hours on the phone every day complaining and crying

"You may think you're hiding it, but quite frankly everyone can hear your conversation and everyone knows exactly what's going on," Hovendick says.

If you're the one in the middle of a breakup, you may be so focused on your own emotional state that you become oblivious to what's happening around you, he says. But colleagues "pick up on the vibes quickly" by watching body language and listening in.

"In the same way your co-workers can pick up on chemistry when things are going well, they can pick up on tension when things are going poorly," he says. "They noticed when you were happy, and now they notice that you're miserable."

3. Gossip about your ex to fellow co-workers

"If you're in your cubicle talking to friends and sharing details, then you're gossiping," Hovendick says. "If you're trying to paint everything your ex has ever said or done as evil or stupid, then you're going beyond gossip into something more dangerous."

Before you start dishing to a colleague, ask yourself "Will this make me feel better?" Hovendick suggests. Chances are it won't, but airing your relationship's dirty laundry can have lasting consequences.

In the worst-case scenario, if the gossip you spread is particularly false or damaging, you can be sued for defamation, says David Baffa, a Chicago-based partner in the law firm of Seyfarth Shaw.

"There have been suits that use the word 'hellish' to describe how relentless, how intolerable it can be," Baffa says.

4. Sabotage their career

"Let's say your ex is a critical part of a team, and you intentionally withhold details from them about a special project to make them look like they don't know what they're doing," Hovendick says. "That's the very definition of sabotage -- you're setting them up to fall."

When the failed relationship exists between a manager and a subordinate, one of the worst ways the manager could handle it is with a "negative employment action," Baffa says, such as passing their subordinate over for special projects, ignoring them for a raise or even firing them.

"That's when it goes from inappropriate to unlawful," he says. "You make matters much worse if your actions could be considered retaliatory."

5. Claim sexual harassment

"Sometimes one party will feel so frustrated, so angry, about the way that things went down, they'll say it wasn't mutual -- it was harassment," he says. "When people get wronged, it's easy for them to feel like there was never a real relationship there in the first place, and then things rapidly turn into a lawsuit."

This most often happens when one party wanted more from the relationship than the other person was willing to give, Hovendick explains -- especially when the relationship is between a manager and a subordinate.

"This is especially tricky when the relationship creates a conflict of interest," Baffa says. "Where one person can affect the career trajectory of another, including how they are paid or how they advance, it's classic sexual harassment."

6. Stalk them

"I've seen situations where one party just can't get over the breakup and starts showing up at the other person's desk all the time, begging, pleading and following them around," Baffa says.

If that kind of "stalking" is allowed to persist, it can be classified as creating a hostile work environment, he says, which is a big problem for employers.

Baffa stresses that this kind of stalking doesn't have to be spiteful or mean -- on the contrary, it's actually kind of pitiful.

"One person could continue asking the other out, apologizing and trying to repair the relationship," he says. "But any kind of unwanted continued solicitations are dangerous because it can just become intolerable for the other person."

7. Start another relationship

"One of the worst ways to end an office romance would be to just start a different office romance," Baffa says. "Jealousy can be a real killer in the workplace that wildly interferes with productivity."

The classic "you cheated on me" accusations are bad enough outside the workplace, Baffa says -- but they're darn near intolerable when they're brought into the office environment.

"This is the kind of thing that will only be tolerated for so long," he says. "Serial daters who go around creating a storm of madness quickly find themselves labeled as 'ex' employees."

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