Depending on which survey you believe the number of people who have been involved in a workplace romance is somewhere between 30% and 70%. Whatever the true figure, it’s a situation that most employers will come across at some point.
So, this Valentine’s Day, I’m setting out a few things you need to be aware of.
It’s not illegal
There’s no law against an office romance. You may not approve but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can stop it legally.
There are, however, some legal implications if a relationship begins to blossom in the workplace.
In the bad old days, employers would simply feel free to fire people (usually the woman) for starting an office romance. However, these days, that would certainly amount to sex discrimination.
Problems can arise where the romantic attraction is not reciprocated. Or if one party decides to end the relationship and the other wants to get back together.
This could lead to complaints of sexual harassment. As an employer, you’re required to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in your workplace.
There may also be other indirect problems associated with an office romance. For example, colleagues may resent any appearance of favouritism or may feel bitter that their colleague is getting all the attention.
So how do you deal with these problems?
The “Love Contract”
In America, employers often use “love contracts” to regulate office affairs. This is a contract both parties sign to confirm that they have voluntarily entered into the relationship. The intention is that this prevents either party from claiming sexual harassment.
This would almost certainly not be effective in the UK because employees are not allowed to waive their right to be protected from sexual harassment. In any event, the contract would only last as long as the relationship and there’s still the risk of either party claiming sexual harassment when the relationship breaks up.
Ban workplace relationships?
Some organisations, particularly financial institutions, have a rule that employees in the same department must not enter into a romantic relationship. If they do, one of the employees is moved to a different department. This may be justifiable where there is a need to demonstrate transparency and avoid any conflict of interests.
Have a suitable employment policy
Many employers find that the best approach is to have a policy in place which deals with relationships in the office. This may include:
- Taking all reasonable steps to prevent harassment;
- Prohibiting relationships between managers and their subordinates;
- Identifying roles that may require disclosure of a relationship with another employee;
- The possibility of transferring one or both of the employees to another part of the organisation to ensure that they are not working together.
If you need legal advice on managing office romance or any other employment law issues, please feel free to contact me.