How risky is a workplace romance in the #MeToo era?

Kate Palmer - HR Advice and Consultancy Director

November 08 2018

8.45 am. You enter the kitchen at work. Two of your staff are quite close. Boil the kettle. Grab a teabag. One sugar, and stir. Execute your exit strategy. It looks like the start of a workplace romance. Not an uncommon sight. In fact, a recent survey revealed that throughout our lives, we’ve survived an average of six workplace romances. And when your employees spend so much time at work, it's no surprise to learn that a quarter of all Brits are in relationships with someone they met there. But it doesn't always turn out well...

The #MeToo aftermath: keeping it consensual

Sexual harassment remains a problem in the modern workplace. A survey carried out by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found more than 52% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work. Four out of five women didn’t report their experience of sexual harassment to their employer. That’s why 78% of companies have reviewed their workplace relationship policies, with 32% making changes to them in the last year. You don’t want a tribunal to ask, “Why didn’t you put a stop to sexual misconduct in your office?” Make sure your staff know that you don’t tolerate sexual harassment in your workplace. Tell them at their induction, and remind them regularly.

Is a ‘workplace romance ban’ the answer?

Would you really want to be the person to quash a relationship that could have blossomed? Some might say an outright ban is a breach of your employees’ human rights. Others argue your employees will be hiding their relationships in plain sight. So what do you do when you find out that two of your employees are in a relationship?

5 ways to manage relationships at work

1. Your employees should know what your workplace relationship policy is. If your policy asks employees to tell you about their new relationship, it doesn’t need to be a declaration of love for the benefit of your whole office. A simple “just so you know…” is good enough. 2. Where one of your employees is more senior than their new love interest, you might need to do a people reshuffle. That’ll avoid any claims of any special or unfair treatment. 3. A new relationship shouldn’t get in the way of the job. If standards start to slip, you should manage it in the same way as any other performance-related issue. 4. Yes, one-third of office romances lead to marriage, but that means two-thirds don’t. Be clear with new and existing staff about behaving professionally if things don’t end in “I do.” 5. Hiding your policy in the depths of their contracts of employment might not cut it; neither will a hastily drafted email. You could try holding a staff workshop, giving everyone the opportunity for an open and honest discussion about the policy. With Christmas party season approaching, do your staff know that workplace boundaries apply at work-related, after-hours events too? Make sure your employees know when to give the mistletoe a miss. Get some refresher sexual harassment training from one of our Peninsula Face2Face specialists

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