It’s the holiday season, and you might be going to a lot of celebrations and shindigs. Showing up alone can be intimidating. Your colleague from the shop might take on a new shine. But can you date a colleague?
Okay, so the answer is complicated. Fraternization is a nuanced situation with lots of grey areas, without clearly defined rules. And it’s easy to cross over that line if you’re not spun up on all the info.
Can You Date a Colleague? And Other Fraternization Questions Answered!
So let’s unpack fraternization and all the nooks and crannies that might trip you up!
What is Fraternization?
Fraternization is when relationships between service members of different ranks, specifically between officers and enlisted personnel, cross established norms and impact the chain of command negatively.
But wrapped up in this super general statement are a lot of grey areas, spaces where you could trip yourself up.
Relationships between individuals of various ranks classified as inappropriate could range from overly casual office exchanges to friendships off-duty to romantic relationships.
So, Can You Date a Colleague?
Again, it’s complicated.
Among troops of the same or similar rank, like two Lance Corporals, it seems like you could skate by with a romantic relationship.
But, just to be on the safe side, it’s good policy to not date anyone you work with on a daily basis. Dating inside of your immediate unit or shop could have implications on the larger chain of command. Plus, most companies and offices prohibit colleague romances.
Long story short: if you’re dating someone also in the military, make sure you’re of similar rank and not in the same chain of command.
There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Because grey areas. So, these are the circumstances that romance can cross the fraternization divide:
- You were married before the military: your spouse was enlisted or commissioned before you enlisted or commissioned
- One of the people in the relationship leaves the military in order to continue the romance
That’s kind of it.
How About for a Casual Non-Date?
You need someone to socialize with at a holiday party and you’re thinking of asking (fill in the blank).
Which might be fine, if:
- You’re of similar rank
- You’re seriously not considering a romantic relationship
- If a romance develops, it won’t impact your chain of command
Totally, it’s fine to bring a buddy with you. It gives you someone to hang with, which can be a lifesaver at big events. Just make sure you’re not crossing any lines.
What About Friendships with People in My Unit?
Yes, to a certain extent.
Building rapport is important. A unit that genuinely likes each other, knows each other, performs better in a stressful situation – like a battlefield. And that’s important.
So unit functions to promote morale are given the green light from the UCMJ. Seriously, do things together as a unit. Play softball, grab lunch, host a family day. Do all those types of things.
The key is that all members of the unit or a particular sub-group are involved. Or you’re enjoying time as together with your enlisted colleagues, officer colleagues, other SNCOs in your unit, etc. Basically, you’re being inclusive.
What crosses the line is when someone senior and junior to each other, like a major and a corporal, grabbing beers after the unit softball game.
Fostering a close, personal friendship that crosses significant rank lines, like between officer/enlisted or very senior officer or enlisted to very junior officer or enlisted, is a major no-go. Basically, don’t do it.
Like office romances, friendships seem to be something left between personnel of the same or similar rank. And definitely avoid a close relationship of any kind with the person writing your fitness report!
How About Renting a Home or Doing Business?
Again, probably not. Having financial dealings with another military member that would violate UCMJ for friendship or romantic relationships is not wise.
You might be able to skate by if you’re not in the same chain of command or in different branches of service.
But the kicker is that the UCMJ includes how things “look” as a qualifier when considering legal action. So doing anything that could create some blurred lines should be carefully considered before proceeding.
Big Ask: Why Should You Care?
Fraternization is kind of a big deal. Basically, what the military wants to avoid is the appearance or fact of impartiality because of relationships between individuals of differing ranks.
Being buddies with your reporting officer doesn’t look good when it comes time to consider fitness reports. Maybe they scored you higher because you’re friends?
But a few beers or a casual BBQ – what’s the harm?
Well, it could cost you your career.
The UCMJ is pretty clear on this point. Relationships between officers and enlisted personnel, officers of different ranks or enlisted personnel of different ranks can be punished pretty harshly. The maximum sentence is dishonorable discharge, giving up all pay and benefits, as well as up to two years of confinement.
So there’s good reason to be aware of fraternization and where you’re landing with your relationships, friendships and even casual conversations.