Office romances | When love is in the air at work - how employers can manage workplace relationships

When love is in the air at work - how employers can manage workplace relationships

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and with a quarter of all Brits in relationships with someone they met at work, love may well be in the air in your workplace. But personal and professional lives can sometimes intertwine, with the potential to cause disruption.

Office relationships can have positive outcomes, such as enhanced morale and an increase in communication, creativity, and energy. But break-ups can cause a tense, uncomfortable atmosphere, not only for the former lovebirds, but their colleagues as well.

And while some companies might want to put a complete ban on inter-office romances, this is almost impossible to enforce.

With this in mind, Greg Guilford, Director of HR Consulting at WorkNest has some advice for employers dealing with potential budding office romances and discusses whether employers should have an official policy to cover workplace relationships.

Romantic risks

“Provided those involved are professional and capable of successfully separating their work and personal life, most relationships between colleagues won’t present problems for the employer. But of course, this doesn’t always happen in reality, and workplace relationships can cause tensions amongst staff and also have potential legal repercussions. We see this particularly when a relationship has turned sour and issues arise that provide grounds for Employment Tribunal claims such as sex discrimination, sexual harassment or victimisation.

An outright ban or love contract?

“The idea of a messy break-up may be enough to make employers want to outlaw workplace relationships altogether. Whilst it is understandable that employers do not actively want to play Cupid, banning workplace relationships would be a step too far and unworkable in practice. Similarly, introducing a so-called ‘love contract’ would also be unwise. Commonly used in the US, these types of contracts formally declare that a relationship is consensual and therefore aim to protect the employer in the event that one of the parties later lodges a sexual harassment claim. However, this approach isn’t recommended in the UK as it could breach human rights.

Setting sensible rules

“Instead, employers should assess the likely implications of any romantic relationships according to the nature of their business and staffing structure and make the necessary provisions. Whilst there is no legal requirement for employers to adopt a formal office romance policy, it is a sensible approach for most employers to impose rules around personal relationships at work, with the aim of ensuring that individual members of staff are not open to allegations of impropriety, bias, abuse of authority or conflict of interest.”

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“For example, one rule could require employees to disclose a relationship, particularly if it involves a manager and their direct report. Similarly, employers could mandate that employees in relationships with colleagues should always behave in a professional manner, paying due consideration to colleagues, customers and clients – no PDAs on the shop floor for example!

“We would advise reviewing your Employee Handbook and ensuring you have all the relevant policies in place, including a code of conduct, grievance procedure and rules on harassment. Crucially, make sure you have a plan in place to communicate these policies and make sure all employees are fully aware of them. On the same note, ensure that managers have had the right training and are equipped to deal with matters such as harassment claims.”

Striking a balance

“Workplace relationships are a notoriously difficult area for HR professionals to navigate. You want to respect an employee’s private life but also protect your business interests. It’s all about striking the right balance.”

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