Love is in the OfficePosted in : HR Updates on 13 February 2018
Valentine's day is upon us again but what rights, if any do employers have to manage office romances? The so-called 'love contracts' in the US were an attempt to curb relationships particularly for senior staff and in doing so protect the organisation from sexual harassment claims. But it would seem that in the UK such measures are at odds with the right to respect for private and family life under Human Rights' law.
During my working life, I have known of many couples who have met through work and gone on to marry and start a family. According to my research, office romances are common but what happens if things turn sour and there isn't always the fairytale ending? Respondents in a new survey reckoned that office romances have a negative impact on productivity and that a significant amount of money was spent dealing with the fallout from complaints such as sexual harassment. So this has left me wondering how employers can safeguard themselves from such risks while at the same time avoiding contractual clauses which are in breach of human rights.
The common advice points to encouraging staff to remain professional in work and keep their personal and private lives separate. We should also ensure that we have bullying and harassment policies in place in the event that someone makes a complaint of sexual harassments. Furthermore, we must take all allegations seriously and deal with them in a timely manner.
It may well be that relationship problems become distracting for one or both employees and result in a lapse of performance. As with any underperformance issue, we should be having early conversations with staff and providing them with the necessary support and opportunities to improve before moving to any formal procedure.
Matters can become even more thorny when relationships involve line managers and their subordinates. Team members may become unhappy with perceived favouritism or where the relationship breaks down this could lead to difficulties. Frequently employers require senior managers to disclose workplace relationships, however, should issues arise then it is important not to treat one party more or less favourably than the other. This is particularly the case, for example, when considering moving one individual to another department.
Finally, confidentiality clauses should be included in all employment contracts as a deterrent to the employee sharing confidential information with their partner. This can become even more problematic should one leave to go and work for a competitor and disclose this information.
So despite the chances of things going wrong, it is important to remember that this may not always be the case. We need to balance the potential risks against human rights. Where couples work professionally side by side without problems then there really is no problem. Relationships at work can work!
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