Workplace Romance

Peninsula Team

October 03 2014

Lots of people meet at work and go on to have happy and loving relationships. However in the modern workplace, a romance between two employees can lead to problems for their colleagues and employer.

So, you need to manage the situation correctly. Failure to do so can affect productivity, morale and the workplace culture.

In this guide, we'll discuss the risks of an office romance, how to manage them correctly, and if you can dismiss employees for getting into a relationship.

What is an office romance?

An office romance is when two co-workers form a new relationship after being colleagues. According to the Society for Human Resource Management in the USA, more than a quarter of employees have said they've had a work spouse or office romance during their career.

Some employers welcome workplace romances in their company, but in reality, the outcomes aren't always positive.

As an employer you need to understand the risks involved in a romance between employees.

What are the potential risks of workplace romances?

There are potential risks when romantic feelings become involved at work. These can happen both during the relationship, and when the relationship ends.

So let's discuss them in more detail.

Sexual harassment claims

A workplace romance can turn sour especially if one party continues to pursue another (especially if they're not interested). If this is the case, a sexual harassment claim may be raised.

You should provide sexual harassment training to your employees. This training should make clear what does and what doesn't constitute harassment and how it can make someone feel.

You should have company policies in place which explain how concerns can be raised, and who they should be raised to. Be aware that if you allow harassment to take place and the employee in question resigns - you may face constructive dismissal claims.

Potential for employee bias

Bias can take place in employee relationships, especially if one partner is in a higher position at work than the other.

Make sure one co-worker isn't giving special treatment to another employee due to their romantic relationship.

You need to be aware of bias taking place in your company. And if it's happening, take the appropriate disciplinary action.

Potential conflict

A workplace romance can lead to conflict between employees, especially if the relationship turns sour.

The last thing you want is two employees at loggerheads with each other due to a romance breaking down. The feud may spread to other employees who are "taking sides" with one party.

This could lead to a negative effect on your workplace culture and employee morale.

Some employees may feel uncomfortable

Workplace romances can lead to long-term relationships but can also lead to uncomfortable situations for the people involved.

Some employees may feel uncomfortable with other employees showing public displays of affection whilst at work. For example, holding hands.

So if this is the case speak with the employees in question. Do your best to understand why they're feeling uncomfortable, and if you need to - speak with the workers making them feel uncomfortable. But make them aware they can't react angrily or badly.

Employer retaliation

If an employee feels uncomfortable due to an office romance, they may want to report it. However, they may be in fear they'll be treated differently.

You should never retaliate and treat an employee differently for raising a concern about how they feel. This can lead to discrimination claims being raised against you. Treat every concern raised with the respect it deserves, as this can increase your employee’s confidence in you.

A decrease in productivity

Employee relationships may lead to a dip in productivity and an increase in distractions. This could be due to chronic flirting or conversations between the two employees.

A relationship between colleagues has the potential to distract other co-workers. Therefore, leading to a wider distraction.

You should make it clear to your employees that they should never let a romantic relationship affect their work. And if it does, you should take sufficient disciplinary action.

Two people going on a walk.

How to manage workplace relationships?

As an employer, you must manage any romantic relationships that happen in the workplace.

So you need to understand the different ways you can manage them if they do take place in your company. Let's discuss them in more detail:

You may choose to ban office romances

Many workplaces choose to ban office romances, but this isn't always the best way to go about it. Banning them should be the last resort, as this may lead to you losing your best staff.

It's advisable to wait and see how relationships between employees play out before making a decision. But remember, you shouldn't treat one relationship differently from others. Make sure to act consistently when it comes to employee romances.

Use love contracts

Many employers use love contracts to manage a relationship between two employees.

Commonly used in the US, a love contract is an agreement between two employees where they state they are in a consensual relationship.

Employers may use a love contract as a useful tool for several reasons. Such as, reducing liability by ensuring relationships are consensual, rooting out problematic behaviours, and maintaining a comfortable workplace culture and environment.

Consult your HR department on best practices

As an employer, you should always consult your HR department to discuss best practices surrounding workplace romance.

Using the correct human resource management can protect employees against the potential risks of workplace relationships.

If you're unsure about how to handle a situation, then always ask an HR expert for guidance.

Don't interfere

As an employer, try not to get involved with your employees' personal lives. If they want your advice, they'll come to you - be supportive where you can.

However, this doesn't mean you can't set boundaries for a workplace romance. For example, you could set boundaries on public displays of affection.

Three hearts of different sizes.

Can you dismiss employees for having a workplace romance?

No, you can't dismiss an employee for directly having a romance with another colleague unless it has a direct impact on the business or other employees. However, you can dismiss employees for having intimate relations whilst at work.

If you dismiss employees for being in a relationship, they may raise a claim of unfair dismissal against you. This may be taken to an employment tribunal if they have two or more years of continuous service.

Get expert advice from Peninsula on workplace romances

Many relationships start at work, with some even ending in marriages. However, sometimes office romances can end negatively and affect the whole company. So as an employer, you need to be aware of how to handle them.

Failure to manage them correctly can lead to conflicts, a dip in productivity, and even employment tribunal claims.

Peninsula offers you expert 24/7 HR advice and support, helping you create an inclusive and diverse workforce. Contact us on 0800 028 2420.



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