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What can you do about workplace romances?

With an estimated 25% of employees having met their long term partner at work, personal relationships in your workplace are inevitable.  However, is there anything you can do here to protect your business from the potential fallout?

No blanket ban

Workplace romances, whether successful or failed, can create difficulties where they impact on the business.  You can’t generally impose a complete ban on workplace romances as employees have a right to private life, but what you can do is set some rules to protect your business interests.

Reasonable restrictions

Put in place a personal relationships at work policy which covers not only romances between colleagues but also relationships between employees and your clients, customers or suppliers.  Then consider including the following provisions:

  • A requirement for employees to behave in a professional manner at all times at work, including a ban on public displays of affection
  • A requirement for employees to bring their relationship to the attention of their manager as soon as reasonably practical – keep this information confidential until the parties are ready to tell other staff; in most cases of relationships between co-workers there’s no need for you to be further involved.

Advice –  Check first that the employees haven’t been coerced into the relationship and emphasise your dignity at work policy

  • Where a manager starts a relationship with an employee they manage, an absolute requirement to declare that to senior management, because of the risk of actual or perceived favouritism during the relationship,, e.g. with regard to promotions, pay rises or allocation of daily work, or an abuse of authority if the relationship subsequently breaks down, plus there’s the risk of breach of confidentiality during “pillow talk” if the manager has access to confidential business information.

Advice – In this situation, reserve the right to change the reporting lines or, if absolutely necessary, to transfer one of them to another team or department.  It shouldn’t automatically follow that it will be the subordinate who is to transfer as that could constitute indirect sec discrimination against a woman (the junior employee is statistically more likely to be female); instead, try to agree, an appropriate solution with both employees.

  • Where an employee begins to date a client, customer or supplier and it allows the potential for either party to abuse their level of authority or exert undue influence over the other, or it otherwise creates a conflict of interest/breach of confidentiality risk, again an absolute require to declare that relationship.

Advice 1 – Reserve the right to change the client etc. contract arrangements or, if necessary, to transfer the employee to another team/department.

Advice 2 – Undue influence includes awarding contracts or granting special terms of business where this would otherwise have not been the case.

  • Disciplinary sanctions where personal relationships at work (or their breakdown) have a demonstrable negative impact on an employee’s conduct or performance, including making it a potential gross misconduct offence to afford more or less favourable treatment to another employee or client etc. as a result of being in a relationship with them.

You can’t impose a complete ban on workplace romances. You can set out reasonable rules in a policy, such as no public displays of affection and a requirement to declare the relationship, so you can consider whether there’s a risk of conflict of interest, breach of confidentiality, undue influence or favouritism.

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