Dealing with workplace relationships

Workplace relationships do happen, unsurprisingly when you consider how much time is spent at work by many in the UK.

But when romance does blossom what can you do to ensure professionalism and productivity do not suffer.

It might be worth having a quiet word with the happy couple to highlight the potential problems and the need to be professional within the workplace.

Alternatively you could speak to their manager, discuss your concerns, and ask them to address the relationship, early on to avoid it becoming an issue in the office. Many organisations state that employees have to inform their line manager if they have a relationship with another employee. The manager can then ensure that the individuals involved are aware of the need to behave professionally and not bring their private life into the workplace.

Some UK employers are following the US in terms of “anti-dating” clauses in employment terms because they are concerned about sexual harassment claims if the marriage or relationship breaks down, or if employees handle sensitive information as part of their job e.g. lawyers, bankers and accountants. However, this is quite difficult to enforce and may just encourage employees to keep their relationships quiet.

Workplace relationships: take precautions

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) says small businesses should take a realistic view of workplace relationships.

With the amount of time Britons spend at work, it is not surprising that an estimated quarter of all long-term relationships are formed between colleagues.

Romantic relationships between employees have the potential to damage a business, either while the happy couple are still together or in the aftermath of a messy split. With this in mind, it’s understandable that employers may want to control or stop workplace liaisons.

However, the TUC has warned that American-style bans on relationships and so-called love contracts have no place in the UK, where workers have more legal protection over privacy and “rights to association” from the 1998 Human Rights Act.

To help employers deal with such a delicate issue, the TUC advises employers that they can develop HR policies specifically targeted at workplace relationships. But it stresses that there is a big difference between requiring staff to behave professionally at work and the more draconian banning of relationships.

Legally speaking, a relationship ban may be in contravention of the right to association, although no legal precedent has yet been set. However, an employee dismissed or disciplined under such a policy could well have grounds to go to an employment tribunal.

From a common-sense point of view, such an extreme measure would more than likely cause staff to keep relationships secret and possibly cause resentment towards the employer.

The TUC advise taking legal advice before putting in place any sort of relationship policy.

Alan Dobie

Alan Dobie

Alan was assistant editor at Vitesse Media Plc (previous owner of before moving on to a content producer role at Reed Business Information. He has over 17 years of experience in the...

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