With the office party season approaching, when a few drinks can turn a workplace flirtation into a fully-fledged romance, employers should consider their approach to relationships at work.
Although it’s common to meet your partner at work, office relationships can be a minefield for companies and employers should ensure that staff are aware of what is inappropriate behaviour and may even consider US-style ‘love contracts’ to curb the office dating scene.
Office romances can cause all sorts of problems from loss of productivity and unrest among other staff to conflicts of interest and allegations of favouritism. If the relationship ends, it may result in the departure of a key member of staff or even a claim for sexual harassment. Where one party has a high profile or high-ranking position, it can also attract adverse media attention.
Employers should run awareness campaigns, particularly in the run-up to ‘danger times’ such as office parties, to make staff aware of the boundaries.
Disciplinary policies should specifically mention inappropriate sexual behaviour and bringing the business into disrepute, even where the actions concerned take place in non-work time. Equal opportunities and harassment policies should clearly state that these may apply even in the case of an office romance.
Can’t we just ban workplace romances? Well you can try, but it’s probably unrealistic (and even harder to police). Employers may consider introducing US-style love contracts which are becoming more prevalent in the UK. The contract could require relationships between colleagues to be declared to the business and set out what behaviour is acceptable between couples, whether in the office or at work-related functions. However, even where love contracts are introduced, the employer may find themselves struggling to police their effectiveness.
So, let’s face it, most people will at some point have a liaison with a colleague, whether it lasts a night or a lifetime. When it all goes wrong and employees are caught in a compromising position under the mistletoe, the best advice has got to be:
• have a sensible policy in place to deal with workplace romances.
• treat employees consistently
• encourage staff to be open about workplace romances.
• deal with any disclosures sensibly and don’t over-react
• use the disciplinary procedure where necessary to deal with inappropriate behaviour.
Here’s to the party season!