Q&A: Dealing with relationships at work

Peninsula Team

February 14 2017

As it’s Valentine’s Day, we take a look at some common questions we get asked by employers about relationships at work. Q. Can you ban office relationships completely? A complete ban on office relationships is likely to be a breach of your staff’s right to a private and a family life, as well as unrealistic and impossible to implement. A total ban is unlikely to remove the possibility of relationships forming and could simply lead to secret romances. This makes it difficult for employers to actively manage the situation as they are unaware of it and can also lead to an increase in negative factors such as gossip, rumours and complaints of favouritism. Q. Can I have a policy on workplace relationships? Written policies on workplace relationships are becoming increasingly popular with employers who wish to manage, rather than ban, office romances. There are three common policy clauses:
  • Require employees to tell their manager when they enter a relationship
  • Employers outline conduct and behaviour that should not occur during working hours
  • Give employers the right to move employees if the relationship involves a conflict of interest (usually for relationships between a manager and a junior team member)
Any policy on relationships needs to strike a balance between the business reasons requiring relationships to be managed at work and the private rights of employees. Other policies, such as those on confidentiality and disclosure of information, may also need to address private relationships. Q. How can we reduce the risk of sexual harassment? Valentine’s Day can be the flashpoint for a claim of sexual harassment. Even something seemingly innocuous, like an anonymous card that’s funny to the ‘office joker’, could offend and harass the recipient. Sexual harassment depends on the individual circumstances of the case so employers should take steps throughout the year to prevent harassment occurring. Some obvious steps are to communicate the harassment policy, train managers on dealing with complaints and actively train all members of staff on what is, and isn’t, appropriate conduct at work. It will also be important to train managers on how to deal with situations when relationships break down; this will be important to reduce tension at work, combat gossip, and deal with absenteeism.

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