Roses are red, violets are blue, does your workplace relationship policy cover you?

Promotional Business Feature: BPE Solicitors Ellie Forsyth, Paralegal in the Employment team
Ellie Forsyth – Oct 20

Ellie Forsyth, Paralegal in the Employment team at BPE Solicitors, discusses the need for a workplace relationship policy to protect both the business and employees who may enter into a relationship at work.

In a society where on average we spend 1/3 of our lives at work, it is important to be realistic that romantic relationships at work are inevitable. Businesses need to ensure that they are effectively managing these situations if and when they arise, as well as protecting themselves from liability for sexual harassment claims in the workplace.

It is important to recognise that these sorts of relationships can have very positive impacts on a business. For instance, a greater knowledge of the business may be achieved by couples discussing their days and their work over a candlelit dinner, which in turn may also result in increased productivity. Employee longevity can be increased by having a romantic partner in the business as well as loyalty resulting in an employee feeling supported in their relationship by their employer.

It needs to be acknowledged, however, that such a relationship can also carry with it some risks for the business. Despite the benefits of the candlelit dinner, it could also result in the disclosure of confidential information, particularly if one of the parties to the relationship is more senior than the other. If the couple work within the same department, there is a risk that other members of the department are treated less favourably (or are perceived to be).

This is particularly relevant if one person in the couple reports into the other. Where there are perceptions of favouritism, team morale may struggle. This scenario can also be particularly problematic if the relationship ends and it becomes impossible for the two to continue to work together, as well as for the department to function. In extreme cases, this may result in employees needing to be exited and claims being made for sexual harassment in the workplace.

Relationships and relationship breakups cannot be avoided. It is therefore imperative that they are effectively managed. The below are just a few practical considerations that could be incorporated into a workplace relationship policy:

  • Make it a requirement that all staff must report any personal relationships and ask them to sign a contract which sets out what is to be expected of them whilst they are in the workplace. This is particularly important as it reduces the businesses exposure to liability for sexual harassment allegations
  • Encourage open communication with these employees. It is important that they feel supported in their relationship by their employer, but also that they can approach HR if the nature of the relationship changes and they have concerns
  • If the two employees work within the same department, it is important that they understand the impact the relationship may have on other members of the team and identify what might be done to ensure this does not become a problem
  • If the relationship is between a senior and a junior member of staff, it would be worth considering that the junior employee report into another member of staff, and that tasks such as appraisals are done by another member of staff also
  • Ensure that there are established rules regarding inappropriate behaviours in the workplace. One doesn’t want to end up in a ‘Matt Hancock’ situation…

A workplace relationship, if well managed, should pose minimal problems for a business and we can all live happily ever after.

However, the honeymoon period doesn’t last forever and that is why it is important to have a relationship policy in place in order to protect the businesses exposure to liability as well as the interests of your employees.

For more information on relationship policies or any other employment matters, contact Ellie Forsyth at ellie.forsyth@bpe.co.uk or call 01242 248466.

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