Romantic relationships in the workplace are not uncommon. It’s an obvious way for people to meet and as we spend most of our week around our colleagues there’s plenty of opportunity for connections to flourish. These relationships do not need to be viewed as a problem and can be highly positive, but it is also important to recognise that they can cause issues.
An example of this was highlighted in the media recently. Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, formerly the richest couple in the world, announced their divorce. The couple met whilst working at a hedge fund in New York before going on to build one of the largest and most successful companies in the world. Their workplace relationship allowed them to realise their success, but also highlights what can happen when things go wrong.
Workplace relationships, and particularly their break down, can be particularly difficult issues for employers to deal with, especially when emotions are running high.
If the relationship in the workplace is affecting the conduct or performance of those involved (or others) then it needs to be managed and dealt with in the same way as any other conduct or performance related matter. Any disciplinary or capability process must be applied and dealt with in a fair and reasonable way.
When relationships break down businesses can be adversely affected in areas such as staff turnover and morale, productivity, possible conflicts of interest and potential damage to public image or reputation. In the digital age, where actions and behaviours can be instantly recorded, the potential for reputational damage cannot be underestimated.
In addition to this, if the procedures aren’t reasonable and aren’t followed reasonably employers may be exposed to claims for direct discrimination, discrimination by association, harassment and victimisation, constructive dismissal and whistleblowing.
Some companies may ban these relationships outright. However, the reality of the situation is that these relationships do happen and research conducted by Direct Line has discovered that three quarters of those involved in workplace romances have kept this from their manager or human resources department.
So what can employers do to help protect themselves and their workforce? If workplace relationships are a concern, ensuring there is a robust policy in place is the first step. Such policies should make clear what type of behaviour will and will not be tolerated. They can also spell out exactly what needs to be disclosed to the employer when employees enter into a relationship. Employers must also ensure that their workforce is aware and understand the company’s position when it comes to workplace relationships, and how they are expected to conduct themselves while in the workplace.
Should you need any advice on policies, guidance, education or training of staff on relationships in the workplace please get in touch with our Employment team.