In this day and age, there is an increasing tendency to spend long hours in the office and therefore it is easy to see why personal relationships and not just friendships are forged in the workplace. There are no explicit laws governing such workplace relationships in the UK and although an employer is entitled to ban office romances, it may prove impossible to enforce and realistically a ban will not stop employees who want to be in a relationship from doing so secretly.
It is also important to recognise that workplace relationships can result in positive outcomes, such as an enhanced morale because employees want to go to work, and an increase in communication, productivity, creativity and energy. However, employers should also be aware of the threats that the office romance poses to their business such as distractions from work, complaints of unfair treatment, favouritism, abuse of power, discrimination and even harassment claims. In the USA, the introduction of ‘Love Contracts’ is an attempt to deal with the potential fallout from ‘the office romance gone wrong’.
So what are the pitfalls of an ‘office romance’ and what should employers be aware of?
1) Sex Discrimination
Sex Discrimination may be a risk if for example the Company finds out that two employees are having a relationship and for that reason asks one to leave the Company or to move teams. Discrimination can also arise where one of the employees is perhaps more senior and as a result of the relationship coming to an end, subjects the other employee to detrimental treatment (i.e. does not promote the employee).
2) Sexual Harassment
Problems may arise when feelings are not reciprocated by the other person, or if after a break-up, one party is still attempting to win their former partner back. These claims can relate to the harassment itself, such as any unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature or unwelcome sexual advances, touching, forms of sexual assault, sexual jokes, or sending e-mails or other messages with material of a sexual nature.
If an employee, for example, reports an unwanted sexual advance to the Company, and is then subjected to a detriment, for example dismissal or not receiving a pay rise or bonus.
Relationships at work can give rise to conflicts of interest and one example would be when an employee and their line manager are in a relationship, conflicts which could arise in this situation include matters such as appraisal scoring, remuneration, work allocation, and promotion.
5) Checks and Balances
Many financial institutions should be particularly concerned if co-workers are in relationships with one-another, as this can lead to problems in relation to internal checks and balances.
6) Confidential Information
Companies may be concerned that employees in a relationship with one another are sharing information which it may not be appropriate to do, such as management plans for the workforce, or in relation to businesses where employees have access to inside information.
If you think there may be issues in your business, Backhouse Solicitors would be happy to assist and advise you as to the best way to protect your business accordingly.
The Backhouse Team
Tel: 01245 893400
Or visit our offices at 17 Duke Street, Chelmsford, CM1 1JU