What can employers do about office relationships?

Peninsula Team

October 03 2014

Office relationships can present a minefield within organisations, with various different methods being introduced to reduce employer liability. America has seen the introduction of ‘Love Contracts’ whilst some UK companies have banned inter-office romances completely. A 2011 study recorded that 40% of workers have dated a colleague at some point, showing that this area is not so much about banning workplace romance but managing it. It is within an employer’s right to ban office relationships completely, however, this may prove impossible to enforce and realistically will not stop employees entering in to secret romances. Office relationships can result in positive outcomes, such as an enhanced morale because employees want to go to work, and an increase in communication, creativity and energy, but employers should be aware of the threats they pose. Many companies prohibit supervisors from dating direct subordinates whilst allowing relationships between members within the same teams. The threat from this type of workplace relationship is a loss of productivity and poor performance, due to distractions both mental and emotional, and the threats from break ups are that they can damage morale, create tense atmospheres, increase absenteeism and result in an increase in gossip and rumours. The situation of having two senior managers in a relationship may appear to be allowable as this is a relationship with someone in the same job band and position. However, if they do break up, this close working relationship may lead to more potential problems than two workers in differing positions; not only the tense, uncomfortable atmosphere which many break-ups produce but also the issue that these employees were recruited as managers for a reason and if one of them leaves because of the fall-out then this creates a gap within the organisation. The first step to managing this situation is to have an office romance policy, setting out clear, comprehensive guidelines on the company’s stand on this issue. This policy could include guidelines such as banning senior and delegate relationships, requiring disclosure of relationships or for seniors to move positions when such relationships develop. Having employees sign and date this policy serves as evidence that they understand and acknowledge these guidelines should any of these situations arise within the office. Also, employers can take steps to educate employees on inter-office romances and on the company’s expectation of conduct and professionalism should they find themselves in such a relationship. Finally, educating employees on sexual harassment policies and their correlation with office romance can reduce liability for companies should romantic involvements turn sour. If you need any further clarification on this issue then please contact the Peninsula Advice Service on 0844 892 2772. 

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