Whilst it is inevitable that employees will develop relationships and many couples work harmoniously within the same organisation, sometimes romances can cause difficulties.
As an employer you may end up being held vicariously liable for allegations of sex discrimination or sexual harassment if a relationship goes wrong and you fail to act on the allegations or fail to prevent them from happening in the first place.
It may be tempting to ban relationships in your workplace or to insist that employees disclose their relationships to you, this would not be advised.
There is a fine line between allowing employees the right to a private life and protecting the interests of the organisation.
A blanket ban on work relationships is unlikely to stand up if challenged at an employment tribunal.
Potential risks of Relationships at work:
Conflict of interest
A situation that has the potential to undermine the impartiality of a person because of the possibility of a clash between the person’s self-interest and professional interest or public interest.
The practice of giving unfair preferential treatment to one person or group at the expense of another.
Unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which: violates ones dignity; making a person feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated;
Discrimination on the basis of gender
Claims of victimisation
Victimisation occurs when an employee is treated badly because they have made or supported a complaint or raised a grievance under the Equality Act; or because they are suspected of doing so.
Managing the risks
- Introduce a policy setting out expectations
- Look at the roles that may require disclosure of any relationship with another employee
- Include in the policy a provision to relocate one or both employees to another area of the business
- Have clear rules on general conduct in the workplace that are applicable to all employees
- Include within the scope of the policy the duty to make the Company aware of any relationship with a customer, client, contractor or supplier of the organisation where there may be a conflict of interest
- Set out clearly what the penalty will be for not adhering to the policies in place
- Have a clear grievance policy to enable employees to air any concerns that they have
- Apply the policies fairly and consistently
Work to create a culture of openness, encourage employees to feel comfortable coming forward and being open about a relationship without the worry of any reprisals.