Affairs at Work

  • Employee Conduct
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

In this guide, we explain what office romances are, types of relationships at work and how to deal with an affair in the workplace.

Office romances are almost inevitable. Not simply because a lot of people work closely together within an organisation, but because the number of hours that people spend at work offers plenty of opportunities for social interaction.

This topic is one that can divide businesses as there are no laws preventing it, and it is usually left to employers to determine how they are going to respond to it. Some employers believe that no harm can come from workplace romances, whilst others say it’s a no go in their workplace.

If you’re an employer and you’re undecided, maybe knowing the different types of office romances can help.

Types of workplace romance

There are many different types of relationships that can develop in the workplace. From the friendships that seem like romance, the relationships that began outside the office, to secret affairs.

Employers can determine what they consider to be inappropriate behaviour, usually within a policy. But it can include things like discriminatory jokes, harassment, or victimisation. Again, employers should not make assumptions but should begin a disciplinary process in this instance.

Another example of perceived inappropriate behaviour is in the case of a relationship between a manager and member of staff. This can lead to a favouritism argument by other employees.

Office affairs

In the case of a secret affair at work, the legal consequences of this would be between the employee and their partner/spouse. This is because affairs at work are not necessarily an employment law issue. However, it would be moral one that may need to be decided in a family court, meaning there are no legal consequences of cheating in the workplace.

The level of intervention from human resources (HR) when an employee is having an affair with someone at work will also depend on the business’ interpretation of inappropriate behaviour. If there is a policy, employers can include physical or emotional affairs at work as being prohibited, due perhaps to the nature of the role or the seniority of the individual(s) in question.

This matters if the affair can cause the business to suffer reputational damage.

Affair at work signs

Cheating in the workplace statistics, according to some workplace studies, show that around 65% of office workers claim they've had at least one inter-office relationship.

How to deal with an affair at work? First know the signs, such as:

  • Volunteering to work late together.
  • Escaping large groups to spend time together.
  • Taking time off on the same day.
  • If applicable, the office door is always closed when the two are together.

There are many other signs of affairs at work. It is important not to assume that an affair or workplace romance is happening, including when someone has been accused of having an affair at work.

How to stop an affair at work

Stopping an affair at work may not be easy. It is best to communicate with the parties involved to ensure that they are aware of the business’ stance on romance at work. It may not be necessary to focus attention on the affair at work, more so on any inappropriate behaviour they may be displaying in the process.

Can employers regulate workplace romance?

Yes. Implementing workplace romance guidelines for employers in the UK who don’t have the law to rely on in this regard will go a long way. This can take the form of a well-thought-out office romance policy.

A workplace romance policy can stipulate the company’s position on the matter; why it is either prohibited or why the company’s stance is neutral; how they plan to regulate it; and the potential consequences of breaking the rules.

Whilst it is not advisable that employers encourage staff to tell on others, this can have its own adverse effects. False reports and mistrust amongst staff may occur, so employers may wish to include a section on how to report an affair at work.

It should be emphasised that all cases will be investigated thoroughly, and a full and proper disciplinary procedure will be followed. This will be crucial to avoid costly tribunal claims, e.g., for constructive dismissal.

Get expert support on office affairs with Peninsula

Although office romances are inevitable, you can still implement guidelines in the workplace. As employers, you can set out a workplace romance policy that allows you stipulate the company’s position on the matter.

Misconstruing a certain relationship or treating employees differently because of an office romance could lead to employment tribunals and costly legal fees. Peninsula can help with affairs at work and our expert team can draft a workplace romance policy to keep you within the law.

Get a free advice call from one of our HR experts on 0800 028 2420.

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