Within my organisation I have noticed that a couple of my employees have started a personal relationship, but I am worried about how this may affect the rest of the workforce. Whilst I want to respect their right to privacy, do I need to implement a policy that will help prevent conflicts of interest occurring?
Office relationships are one of the toughest issues to manage, however these are often inevitable due to the amount of time spent in the office; a 2011 study recorded that 40% of workers have dated a co-worker at some point. Whilst employees are entitled to a certain level of privacy, relationships can cause a headache for employers and this area is one where implementing a successful policy is instrumental to managing conflicts.
Relationships and romances are essentially private, and employers should be aware of their employee’s right to privacy under the Human Rights Act 1998. Employers are within their rights to introduce a ban on office relationships, however, in reality this will prove very difficult to enforce and will not stop employees entering in to ‘secret’ relationships, creating more difficulties as employers cannot manage what they do not know about.
Conflicts of interest are more likely to develop where seniors enter in to romances with direct subordinates. Senior-delegate relationships have the potential to lead to claims of sexual harassment, for which the employer can be liable for. Other types of relationships can lead to conflicts of interest even where the two employees are at the same level, for example, if two senior managers are in a relationship but only one is in line for a promotion, will this remain a fair, impersonal process?
A clear and comprehensive company policy on office relationships can provide the mechanism the employer needs to be able to take steps to address relationship conflicts if, and when, they arise. The policy can outline the company’s stance on senior and delegate relationships, whether disclosure of personal relationships is required and whether the company has the right to move one party to a different department should the need arise, taking care that this term is not sex discriminatory.
Employers should also be able to prove that they have taken all the necessary steps to stop actions such as sexual harassment taking place, if such a claim does present itself. This could be proven by educating staff on inter-office romances, communicating the company’s expectation of conduct and professionalism at all times, and further training on the sexual harassment policies and procedures in place.
For further clarification on this issue, please call the Peninsula Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.