Given the amount of time most of us spend at work (the average person will spend 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime), it’s understandable that romantic relationships might develop.
From a HR perspective, it needs to be made clear what your company stance is towards workplace relationships including who must be informed and the importance of professionalism. This should all be included in your employee handbooks so that your staff are aware from day one of employment.
If you require support from a qualified HR consultant in updating or reviewing any current employee documentation that you have in place, then give us a call on 0845 2626 260 or email us directly
There are many HR problems that may arise and things that you need to consider in relation to workplace romances, but one thing you must remember is that putting a ban on workplace relationships is unrealistic and could be deemed unfair and discriminatory on the grounds of relationship status – which is a protected characteristic. So, although you can take this approach to protect your business, you need to tread carefully because technically it is not illegal to date in the workplace.
Alternatively, you may choose to be firm in your approach to workplace relationships by moving people between departments or introducing a conflict of interest form to avoid any problems with perceived favouritism or preferential treatment which has been known to destroy companies.
Every member of staff has a right to a private life and what they do outside of work, for the most part, is not punishable in work.
Though you cannot prevent your employees from having personal relationships at work, you can make it clear that there could be heavy repercussion if they choose to do so.
Managing Workplace Relationships
Before jumping straight to dismissal, consider the options.
There are restrictions that can be put in place such as having one of the employees work in a different area of the premises or even a different department, if possible, and ensuring that their breaks are at different times to avoid distractions or excessive socialising.
When productivity or performance starts to drop, and you believe that the relationship is playing a role in that, you can begin to issue warnings and discipline the employees involved if you have sufficient evidence to support your claim.
Your workplace policy on relationships should state that the employees need to inform their line manager of their relationship as soon as possible during a 1-1 meeting.
In this meeting, you should ensure that your employees understand that their relationship must not interfere with their work and discuss whether they would like their colleagues to know about this relationship and any restrictions that you are putting in place to help manage the relationship in the workplace.
If they have chosen to keep it private, it makes the situation a lot easier; however, if they decide to be more open about it then it becomes a bit more complicated.
There are endless difficult situations that you may face when dealing with public workplace relationships.
A new couple at work may make the rest of your workforce feel uncomfortable or even lead to gossiping and harassment which can make the couple feel isolated and cause segregation in the workplace.
It is important that you discuss this with both people in the relationship so that they feel comfortable in approaching you should there be any issues.
But you will also need to communicate this with the rest of your staff so that they are made aware that any bullying or harassment will not be tolerated and will result in disciplinary action as explained in your employee handbooks.
The dangers of a romance at work
There are many obvious concerns related to a relationship in the workplace which is why many people avoid it.
One of the biggest issues that could arise is potential to commit fraud.
For example, if one of the employees involved in the relationship works within the finance department of the company and is responsible for signing off and paying out expenses or wages to the other employee, there is a risk of fraud and this could have serious consequences for your business.
In this specific situation, you would be advised either to change the employee’s responsibilities within the finance department or dismiss one of them.
Moreover, although one third of workplace romances end in marriage, there are many that end in a bad break-up. This could create a hostile and tense environment between the two participants with colleagues even getting involved and taking sides.
It could even lead to one, or both, of the parties leaving the company.
There isn’t much you can do to prevent this from happening, but you must make both parties aware of your policy and procedure on resignations so that they provide the appropriate notice. You must also be prepared for this to happen when first informed of the relationship should the relationship end.
Some couples may decide to resign even when still in the relationship due to the strain that working together can cause, so you should bear this in mind too.
Workplace relationships involving senior members of staff
Alternatively, an employee could end up getting into a relationship with a more senior member of staff which has its own complications such as accusations of biased or favouritism and general gossip and disdain amongst staff.
This is when you will need to consider any conflict of interest such as, does this senior member of staff decide on pay increases and could this result in preferential treatment towards their new partner?
These situations are even more sensitive and should be treated on a case by case basis if, and when, they occur.
Again, you will need to consider introducing a conflict of interest form or potentially dismissing one of the employees.
Not to mention that if the relationship ends, one or both employees may feel uncomfortable being at work which results in increased absenteeism or even resignation.
Therefore, it is important to create a clear ‘office romance’ policy that applies to all workers including senior members of staff.
Things to consider if you decide to dismiss one of your employees
Once you have weighed up all the options, if you are left with no better choice than to proceed with a dismissal the next question is, who do you get rid of?
When dealing with a heterosexual relationship, you are at risk of claims of gender discrimination whichever employee you choose to dismiss.
In fact, any difference between the employees in age, ethnicity, religious belief or any other protected characteristics could be a case against you.
You will need to be able to clearly justify your reasons as to why you have chosen to dismiss one employee over the other.
Some things to consider when coming to an unbiased and risk-free decision would be:
- Length of service. It is easier to dismiss an employee who has been with the company for less than two years so if that is the case with one of the employees then they are the clear choice
- One of the employees may have already been under-performing and at risk of being dismissed anyway
- One of the employees may have already received one or two warnings because of misconduct in the past so this could be their final strike
- Follow procedure. The most important thing you can do is follow the correct dismissal procedure and seek advice from an Employment Law expert
However, if both employees have been with the company for over two years, perform well and never put a foot wrong then you could make the difficult decision of letting both employees go.
If you are currently facing any of these issues, or you would like some support in putting policies in place, then our experienced HR consultants can provide professional advice.
Just call us on 0845 2626 260 for a complimentary consultation