Your guide to drama-free workplace relationships

  • Employee Conduct
Kate Palmer FCIPD - Director of HR Advice and Consultancy at global employment law consultancy, Peninsula.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director

(Last updated )

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Noticed a spark between two of your employees?

That’s not unusual.

In fact, a quarter of all Brits are in relationships with someone they met at work. But in spite of how common it is, it doesn’t make it any easier for you to handle.

Are your lovebirds distracted on the job? Are they making other staff feel awkward? Workplace relationships can cause trouble – that’s why it’s vital you create a robust policy. With clear rules in place, both you and your staff know the right way to act if a relationship blooms.

So this Valentine’s Day, here’s what you should include in your relationship policy…

1. Ask staff to disclose romantic relationships

When a workplace relationship blossoms into something serious, you should know about it.

Having this information means you can assess whether you need to act. For example, should you move the couple apart to limit distraction? Or place them on different projects to avoid conflicting interests?

So, make it clear that you expect total transparency. When you do this, outline who your employees can speak to about their relationship.

2. Identify problematic relationships

Some workplace relationships are trickier than others.

Let’s say a senior manager and an entry-level employee start a romantic relationship. When the manager allocates tasks, other employees could accuse them of being unfair. Or if it’s time for promotions, for example, it could even lead to conflict-of-interest issues.  

It's also worth considering relationships your staff have outside the workplace, too. A relationship with a client or competitor could trigger major confidentiality concerns.

That’s why you should outline any relationships which could be problematic. For example, this could be a relationship between:

  • Senior and lower-level staff.
  • An employee and their client.
  • Employees who work closely with one another.

Then, for each kind of relationship, consider how you would reduce any disruption. For example:

  • Redeploying senior staff to another role. 
  • Moving staff to different projects, accounts, or clients. 
  • Moving staff to work in a different office or location.

3. Outline your expectations on behaviour

Whether it’s a lover’s tiff or cringe-worthy PDA, a couple can create an uncomfortable workplace environment. So, it’s essential that employees understand how to act in a relationship at work.

This means you should pinpoint clear rules on conduct, like:

  • No physical displays of affection.
  • Avoid personal disagreements within the workplace.
  • Remaining professional if the relationship breaks down.
  • How and when to disclose a personal relationship.

Setting out your expectations is vital. And it’s not something you should leave until your employees start a relationship – all staff should agree to these rules as soon as they start working.

Then, when staff disclose a relationship, you can refer back to the rules you set out. This means that staff know what kind of behaviour to avoid. And if they do breach these rules, you can then follow the right disciplinary action…  

4. Take disciplinary action if things go wrong

Relationships can be complex.

When emotions run high, it’s not unlikely for unprofessional behaviour to spill into day-to-day work. Whether staff are arguing at work or smooching in the shared kitchen, you may need to take disciplinary action.

In your policy, you should outline the steps you’ll take if they breach any rules covered earlier. It’s unlikely you’ll need to head straight for instant dismissal – instead, you could issue a verbal or written warning. A typical process looks like this:

  1. Verbal warning
  2. First written warning
  3. Final written warning
  4. Dismissal

However, their behaviour might be a case of gross misconduct – like if an argument escalates into a physical row – which can mean instant dismissal.

Ready to create your relationships policy?

Now you’ve covered all the above points, you know what to include in your policy on workplace relationships. But when it comes to creating a watertight contract, it can be hard to know where to start.

What sort of clauses do you need to protect your business? And could an employee find a loophole in your rules?

Luckily, our HR specialists have crafted a ready-made relationships policy for you. It includes everything you need to reduce disruption in the workplace.  

Want a copy for your business? If you’re a Peninsula client, give your team a call on 0800 029 4382 and request your copy today. And if you’re not yet a client, discover expert documentation as part of your unlimited HR support.

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