Relationships at Work – do they really matter?

The Helens

The Helens

With the average person spending 90,000 working hours over the course of their lifetime (eek!), it’s highly likely romantic relationships will begin at work. But it is not always bad news. In most cases, relationships in the workplace cause no problems for the employer, and they can in fact bring many benefits, such as a greater commitment to the business, shared views on how the business can improve and an increase in personal interest in the business’s success.

However – workplace relationships do have the potential to be detrimental to a business in the absence of clear rules or boundaries or effective management. The risks of personal relationships at work include:

Preferential and inconsistent treatment of employees

Where two or more employees are related or have a personal relationship within the same team, you should consider the potential impact or perceived impact on other team members and working practices. This is particularly important where one reports to the other. For example, consider how annual leave requests are handled, how shift patterns operate, and other sign-off processes within your business, such as expenses.

Confidentiality breaches

Those who have personal relationships should not work together if there is any risk of a breach of confidentiality due to the overlap of their personal and professional relationship.

Inappropriate behaviours

Each workplace will have their own set of rules and standards as to how their employees should behave at work (see Social Events Policy). However, there are occasions where personal relationships sour and the impact of such a breakdown can infiltrate the workplace, resulting in adverse behaviours being displayed by one or either of the parties.

Grievances & unlawful behaviours 

If a personal relationship has broken down and one of the parties is acting inappropriately, you risk a grievance being raised if the matter is not managed appropriately within the workplace.

Legal considerations

In the UK there are no specific laws governing personal relationships at work, however there is broader employment law such as the Equality Act 2010 and the Protection of Harassment Act 1997 that may apply when managing such workplace relationships.

In the context of personal relationships at work, there may be issues of sex discrimination or harassment, particularly if the relationship breaks down. Sex discrimination can occur where a female employee has been asked to leave over a male employee because of their relationship or the breakdown of it. And if an employee believes they have experienced harassment because of their gender, this could also amount to discrimination. In extreme cases, employees may be entitled to resign and claim constructive dismissal in an employment tribunal.

If you are addressing issues arising from personal relationships through your disciplinary process, ensure you have the justification to do so. For example, you must be able to reasonably show that the consequence of the relationship has had a detrimental effect on the business.

Perhaps implement a Relationship At Work Policy

An appropriate policy setting out the standards for what is expected and what is and is not acceptable behaviour and details actions to be taken if problems arise which will help you to ensure that such situations are handled effectively and consistently.

A written policy also assists line managers to understand their responsibilities and role in managing personal relationships within their team and outlines steps they can legitimately take to appropriately manage such situations as and when they arise.

Whilst everyone is entitled to a private life, it is sensible to prepare a policy for what happens when complications arise which expose your business to claims of harassment and sex discrimination if the relationship ends acrimoniously.

If you would like a Relationship At Work Policy, get in touch.

thehelens@complexhr.co.uk

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