Should you ban workplace relationships?

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To mark Valentine’s Day, we take a look at the taboo topic of workplace relationships and how employers navigate the legalities of imposing restrictions on them.

A recent survey revealed an incredible 58% of employees have engaged in a romantic relationship with a colleague. This should be a wake-up call for employers to manage workplace attraction and ensure an acceptable policy is in place.

“A policy on workplace relationships which is clearly communicated to staff could save an employer a lot of stress and financial risk in the long run” says HR Team Director, Breda Cullen.

Almost half (41%) of employees did not know their company’s policy regarding office romance.

Many companies have strict policies against workplace relationships. For example, McDonald’s has adopted a zero-tolerance relationship policy regarding the romance between senior management and employees. The company’s CEO, Steve Easterbrook, was previously dismissed for having a consensual relationship with an employee. A statement by McDonald’s said that Mr Easterbrook had “violated company policy” and “shown poor judgement”.

Workplace relationships

Why restrict a workplace relationship?

Potential litigation issues or conflicts of interest if a relationship turns sour are becoming an increasing risk for companies in light of the ‘Me Too’ movement.

Other factors to consider about romantic relationships between employees may be that staff are distracted – they may have more interest in each other than their work. For this reason, productivity can be affected.

Workplace relationships could also prompt concerns over accusations of favouritism to maintaining a professional and comfortable environment and avoiding possible disruption to that – especially in the event of a breakup.

However, employees can perceive restrictions as an invasion of privacy. Completely banning workplace relationships may also encourage employees to be dishonest and conceal the relationship.

Employers must also be careful of discrimination claims, in particular, where same sex individuals are involved.

Do you have an employment law question?

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