The Hill Life: Matters of the Heart
Mar 30, 2011
What are the rules about an intern dating a staffer? Is it illegal or just looked down upon?
Oh boy. Deep breath.
As long as the intern is over 18, I don’t believe there is any law that would make it illegal. However, Congress has its own set of ethics rules that function like laws in that they are enforceable by the committees who oversee the conduct of Members and staff.
I searched the 2008 House Ethics Manual, and I did not find contain any specific prohibitions against a paid staffer dating an intern. However, this does not mean that the Ethics committee would find such a relationship permissible. Only a counsel in the Ethics office can tell you for sure, and all calls to the Ethics office are confidential.
Also, you need to consider that many offices ask their staffers to sign a separate code of conduct that probably includes guidelines on interacting with interns, fellows and volunteers. So before you even consider pursuing a relationship with a paid staffer, you should make sure that he didn’t sign anything that would prohibit him from dating you. But even if he didn’t, I cannot caution you enough about how seriously you need to consider the personal and professional implications of dating a staffer, especially if you work in the same office.
I would not take kindly to the idea of a staffer in my office engaging in a romantic relationship with an intern during her or his internship. Even if I knew that their feelings for each other were genuine, there is a perception issue that I would not be able to overcome because he is essentially your boss.
This perception issue also extends beyond the Hill. Consider how the Member’s constituents would feel about such a relationship. Ask yourself, how would the voters who elected my Congressman feel about a (probably older) male staffer engaging in a relationship with a (probably younger) female intern?
Additionally, you need to remember that the Hill is a small, claustrophobic place and if you develop a reputation as that intern or that staffer, you may not be able to escape the fallout. Do you really want your name, the staffer’s name and your Member’s name bandied about as the juicy gossip of the day? Because odds are that they will be to some extent.
Remember, an internship is a temporary condition. If you like this person, wait until your internship is over to pursue a relationship. It’s simply not worth the possible damage to your professional reputation and his. And from a purely romantic perspective, why would you want to add an unnecessary source of stress to a new relationship?