• When romance blossoms at work: how employers can prevent problems

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    Should there be rules on personal relationships at work?

    Meeting one’s significant other at work is one of the most common ways for individuals to find love. This Valentine’s Day, XpertHR looks at five ways employers can prevent problems arising when romance blossoms in the workplace.

    Have rules on personal relationships at work

    Many employers will be fine with two colleagues having a relationship, providing their conduct does not affect their work. However, it is still a good idea for employers to have a written policy on personal relationships at work.

    Typically, a policy on workplace relationships will:

    • allow relationships between colleagues as long as they do not negatively influence employees’ conduct in the workplace;
    • require the couple to inform a manager when a relationship is initiated; and
    • allow the employer to transfer one or both employees to another department, or change their reporting lines, when there is the potential for conflict.

    The rules must be applied consistently to everyone, including managers. Same-sex couples should not be treated differently to heterosexual couples.

    Remind couples of their responsibilities outside work

    In practical terms, there is not much that an employer can do to police a couple’s activities outside work.

    However, employers can warn employees in a relationship that it would be a possible ground for disciplinary action for them to discuss confidential matters with their partner.

    This would include not divulging commercially sensitive information and not discussing confidential information about another member of staff.

    …but take a stricter line on their behaviour at work.

    Employers can legitimately prevent “inappropriate conduct” at work that could lead to disciplinary action.

    A broad ban could be placed on “intimate behaviour” during work time, for example kissing, touching or holding hands.

    Employers can also require employees in a relationship to keep communications in the workplace professional, particularly when using their work email or some other form of internal communication.

    Police unwanted behaviour that can constitute harassment…

    A relationship requires two consenting adults. Employers should take action under their equal opportunities and anti-harassment policies against any employee who makes unwanted sexual advances towards a colleague.

    For example, an employee might repeatedly ask a colleague out despite it being made clear that romance is not an option. Similarly, comments about an employee’s appearance are normally inappropriate.

    Sexual harassment could also occur if someone uses a position of power to make sexual advances. For instance, a manager should not ask a junior employee to go on a date in return for a promotion or pay rise.

    …but show a degree of common sense

    Romance does not need to be completely dead in the workplace. There is unlikely to be a problem if an employee simply fancies a colleague at a similar level of seniority and asks them out, even if the response is a polite “no”.

    Similarly, a one-off, non-sexual compliment from one worker to another about their appearance when they know each other well is unlikely to constitute harassment.

    A respectable and controlled Valentine’s Day-themed event at work (for example within a sales team) can be good for morale and motivation.

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    AUTHOR

    Katy Phillips

    Publisher

    All stories by: Katy Phillips