14th February 2008

INFORMATION
UPDATE

 Issue No.  2008/05

 Sentient
              

 

 IT’S VALENTINE’S DAY!! 

 

As cupid’s Arrow is no doubt flying around today – it is a timely reminder from the “bah humbug brigade” to raise the implications of “romance” within the workplace.
 
Clearly employers cannot impose a blanket ban on romantic relationships within the workplace – if nothing else it is a breach of an individual’s Human Rights.  However, when relationships within the workplace do develop they can have a negative impact.  Employers should keep an eye out for:
 
  • An increase in down time due to “workplace” gossip;
  • A decline in work standards;
  • Actual or perceived favouritism;
  • Conflicts of interest and confidentiality issues.
If two colleagues who work together are in a relationship, what should you do?
Providing it is not just a rumour, explain to both your concerns about them working together and the need for them to act properly at work.  Remind them of the importance of the need for them to separate their personal and professional lives.
 
If the relationship is likely to create work difficulties the following should be considered:
 
Transfer one of the couple to another department
This might be appropriate if it is a manager/subordinate relationship. Check the employment contract to see if it allows you to transfer the employee to a different department/location. If not, you will need the worker’s agreement. 
 
You must act reasonably to avoid breaching the duty of trust and confidence. For example, if the transfer was a demotion, or to a different location, some distance away.
 
Dismissal
Dismissing an employee solely for having a relationship at work is very likely to be unfair. You may be able to fairly dismiss if you have good reason to believe that the relationship is likely to damage the business. Dismissal should be a last resort after exploring all other alternatives.  You should seek professional advice before taking any action that may result in a dismissal or likely to result in a claim of Constructive Dismissal.
 
Other Considerations
Discrimination
Transferring or dismissing only one of the couple could lead to a successful sex discrimination claim (assuming this is an opposite sex relationship). To reduce this risk, carefully consider which employee should be transferred or dismissed and why, using objective reasons and documenting the process.
 
Sexual harassment
When a work relationship ends and bad feeling results it may well lead the rejected partner to make a sexual harassment allegation as a form of revenge.  One employee may continue to pursue their former partner who then complains of harassment.  As this is work place based it will be for the employer to sort out.
 
Employers will be vicariously liable for any harassment, unless the employer can show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent it. An Employers best protection is to have an appropriate equal opportunities policy, which specifically deals with sexual harassment. The policy should be clearly communicated to all employees, and staff should be given training in the policy.
 
Policy on Relationships at Work
While it may be unrealistic to attempt to stop work relationships from blossoming in the first place, an appropriate policy can help avoid the negative consequences that might otherwise grow from an office romance.
 
There are various provisions you could set out to avoid future problems, including:
 
  • Behaviour at work (i.e. no public displays of affection during working hours or on company premises).
  • A requirement to disclose the relationship (perhaps limited to appropriate situations, such as employees within the same team, or where regulatory issues may arise), with an assurance of confidentiality.
  • Your right to reallocate responsibility for certain procedures (for example, appraisals, disciplinary or grievance hearings) to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
Please contact us if you wish further advice, training on equal opportunities or a Relationship policy, please ring us on 08456 446 006 or email info@sentientuk.co.uk
 
For those who are old enough to remember, it would seem appropriate to end a Valentine's Day message with
S.W.A.L.K

 

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