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Work relationships


Love at work?

There is nothing bad about workplace love affairs (unless an employment policy prohibits it), but following #metoo, you would be wise to think twice.  So you’ve met a wonderful gal or guy at work. You clocked each other in the staff room and sparks may have flown. Can you take it further? Safely? Without being accused of sexual harassment? Or worse?

It is unlawful for your Employer to treat men and women differently because of their sex, so if only one of you is disciplined, you may have grounds for a sex discrimination claim.


What you should do

  • Read your contract of employment, or policies to determine whether work place relationships are permitted or have to be disclosed.
  • Consider the small print, are the stipulations too intrusive? If you’re being forced to sign a contract restricting you from having a personal relationship at work this may in breach of your right to privacy which is in contravention of Article 8 of the Human Rights 1998
  • It’s a good idea to let your employer know who you are seeing (with their agreement), and let your Employer know that you won’t let it affect your job. If your new boo is your line manager, is in charge of your appraisal, or is responsible for your pay or performance review, you should let your Employer know as soon as possible.
  • Don’t do anything that could be seen as gross misconduct. An example would be sharing confidential information about company policy or other staff during “pillow talk”.
  • Your interaction with each other at work should be strictly professional.  Do not give your employer a reason to dismiss or demote you.  Being caught in a compromising position is grounds for gross misconduct and a potential cause for dismissal.
  • Same-sex workplace relationships can make your colleagues aware of your sexual orientation. Be aware of this if you have a need to keep your sexual orientation private. The sexual orientation regulations in the Equality Act 2006 make it illegal for your Employer and colleagues to discriminate against you on the grounds of your sexual orientation.

Regulated Professions

If you work in a regulated profession such as such as the police, healthcare, education and banking, or have regulatory responsibilities the rules will be more stringent for you. You must comply with any standards set by the regulator in regulated sectors.  Your Employer will address a breach of regulatory requirements as a disciplinary matter and will very likely also refer the matter to your professional regulator. Tariq Drabu, a married dentist who had a nine-year affair with his dental nurse, was suspended from practice for four months by the General Dental Council for conduct described as “unprofessional, inappropriate and not in the best interests of patients”. His nurse, Paula Jackson, was also suspended for two months for selling her story to a weekly magazine.

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has disciplinary powers under its “approved persons regime” and its handbook lays out detailed rules and guidance for ‘approved persons’ and authorised businesses. No person – including directors, non-executive directors, chief executives – can manage a “controlled function” or handle compliance and money-laundering reporting without the FSA’s approval. The most important controlled functions, where the person performing the role is likely to exercise a significant influence over the conduct of the firm’s regulatory affairs, are known as “significant influence functions” (SIF).

A relationship at work can breach these rules in many different ways. Failing to declare a relationship with a colleague can lead to allegations of insider dealing. A trader should not be able to influence anyone in a back office function who is required to ensure that all trades are properly documented and recorded, and a chief executive should not be able to exercise undue influence over a compliance officer.


What Employers worry about

Your Employer is vicariously liable for employee’s actions in the workplace and at workplace events including Christmas parties, staff drinks outside work etc.  Your Employer would be most concerned about employment tribunal claims being brought by you or your ex-boo if your relationship breaks down. A sex discrimination or harassment claims is one that looms large, and would be a reason for your Employer to be wary of your relationship.

Xpert HR gives the following advice to employers about how to manage relationships at work;

  • Accept that personal relationships at work are normal and that, in many cases, they will not present a problem.
  • Put in place a policy on relationships at work that balances your employees’ right to a private life against the company’s right to protect its business interests.
  • Ensure that there are effective grievance and anti-harassment procedures in place so that any allegations following a failed relationship can be dealt with effectively.
  • Be aware that the dismissal of an employee for having a personal relationship at work is highly likely to be unfair, as well as possibly discriminatory on the grounds of sex, status as a married person or civil partner, or sexual orientation.
  • Take into account that it is unrealistic to place a blanket ban on personal relationships between workplace colleagues.
  • Consider guidelines covering personal relationships between employees and clients, customers, contractors or suppliers.
  • Love Contracts

Yes indeed. There is such a thing. A love contract is also known as a “Consensual Relationship in the Workplace Agreement”. It is a US import, and is basically an agreement to be signed by two romantically-involved employees representing that their relationship is entirely consensual and acknowledging the employer’s anti-harassment policies and rules.  Your Employer could have you both sign this document to confirm that neither of you have been coerced into the relationship. Employers will do this to protect themselves for sexual harassment, discrimination or victimisation claims if your relationship does not work out. Its like a pre-nup for your Employer!


Can your Employer ask you to stop seeing each other?

Your Employer cannot forbid you to have a relationship, since what you do privately outside of work is your own business. The days when you could get fired for having an office romance are long gone. Your right to a  private life is enshrined in the Human Rights Act 1998.  This means you can be open about a love relationship at work without worrying about being dismissed.

Your Employer may have a policy about workplace affairs. Some industries may prohibit workplace  relationships and will have policies in place.  Other employers request that any workplace relationships are disclosed to them as soon as the relationship starts.


Some pro’s and cons

Pro’s

Boosting moral

When people are in a positive place like a new relationship for example that feel good energy can extend into the workplace making the co-workers more productive and positive in their attitude towards work.  Moreover this positive energy can also rub off on the colleagues around them which aids efficiency.

Increased productivity

Co-workers in a relationship often work even harder in the workplace to prove to any sceptics that they are professional and that their relationship doesn’t have any negative implications for the organisation.

Cons

Impact on career progression.

Your Employer could take the view that your judgement in choosing to have a relationship at work is unprofessional and questionable.

Conflict of interest

If you are in the same department, your Employer may ask one of you to transfer to another department within the organisation to enable cohesiveness.   Such a move could be detrimental to one of you, in terms of working in an unfamiliar area, having to build new relationships or proving yourself all over again in a new department.

Seniority

If one of you is in a more senior position, it creates the possibility of a sexual harassment or victimisation claim if the relationship does not work out. Suspicion may arise when the office relationship involves a manager and an employee.  Here the remaining members of staff may feel that anything said in the presence of the party “A” will be divulged to party “B” the manager.

Things can get a little complicated.

Whilst the relationship is going from strength to strength you will both be happy and content. If you argue or the relationship breaks down, this can have a very negative impact on everyone.

There’s no escape

What happens if your relationship breaks down? You will have nowhere to hide as you will inevitably see each other on a daily basis.

Taking sides

Other colleagues in the department may feel that they have to take sides and the atmosphere at work may become very negative.  This may result in one of you feeling isolated or victimised.

Updated: 01/03/2020


Best of the Web

WorkSmart: Relationships at work

The Guardian: Corporate Affairs

The Independent: When a colleague becomes a lover

BBC: The #metoo Campaign

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