23 February 2018
Valentine’s Day may be over and done, but hopefully love may have blossomed for some lucky individuals! However, the course of true love is not always rosy and an unsuccessful relationship with a work colleague can be a HR headache for employers!
When office relationships are going well this can be a delight for all concerned, often lead to an increase in productivity in the workplace and employees working extra hours. Nevertheless, as soon as office relationships go wrong, productivity plummets, distractions and office gossip increases and battlelines are drawn.
There is nothing which makes consensual office relationships unlawful, but a clued-up employer will put guidance in place, not only to manage the successful work romances, but also those that hit the rails!
Of course, a relationship can turn sour for one individual, but not the other, leading to ongoing attention which is unwelcomed by one party. Unwanted gifts or advances may be deemed as harassment and employers should remind employees what amounts to unacceptable behaviour, communicate clearly the procedures under which employees can report it and deal swiftly with any unacceptable conduct.
Similarly, if a relationship develops between a senior manager and a more junior employee, there is a risk of undue influence and unfair treatment allegations. Perceptions of other staff will be relevant. Employees should be asked to notify serious relationships of this nature and know that it may involve a transfer of one or both individuals perhaps depending on the significance of their role. And whilst we think it goes without saying that employees know they should behave professionally in the workplace at all times, it is worth saying it in a policy that when conducting a relationship, not to make colleagues feel awkward by their behaviours. If a relationship fails, an employer may consider whether or not it is appropriate for the parties to continue working together. In either case, care has to be taken not to discriminate against one gender.
So, may true love run smooth, but in the event it does not, it is worth being prepared!