11 Feb 2019
As Valentine’s Day approaches Heather Maclean senior employment solicitor at LAW At Work suggests employers should keep an open mind when it comes to office romances.
The growing #MeToo movement might have caused a decline in office romances, but with the average Briton racking up 42 hours of work each week, it is no surprise that many still meet their other halves at the office. While a third of office romances lead to marriage – as was the case for power couple Barack and Michelle Obama, who met at a law firm in the 80s - when dealing with affairs of the heart, there is always potential for fall-out.
Some of the biggest concerns from employers faced with employee fraternisation is the potential distractions, conflicts, perceived preferential treatment or, in extreme cases, allegations of sexual-harassment.
To avoid heartbreak in the year ahead, employers are advised to follow some simple guidelines to keep the work on track, even when love runs its course.
A Love Contract
In 2018, UK banking giant Barclays announced a new code of conduct for employees requiring them to inform line managers if they were romantically involved with a co-worker.
While it is beneficial for employers to be made aware of office romances, don’t expect employees to tell you after the first date - this is a delicate time and not something they will want to flag to HR or the boss.
If you really want to know if employees are in a relationship, make it clear at what stage they must alert you.
The allure of power
Things become trickier where one person is more senior or manages the other. In June 2018, the CEO of tech firm Intel was forced to step down after it came to light he was dating an employee.
In the #MeToo era, it is more important than ever that guidelines are put in place to manage the murky waters of consent in a boss – subordinate relationship. Employers might want to consider moving the manger to another department.
Your staff should already know what is expected of them in terms of their work performance. If you suspect the quality of work is being affected by an office relationship - then address this in the same way you would do with any poor performance.
Lips should be sealed
When two co-workers become involved romantically, the news can quickly become the talk of the water cooler.
If employers are alerted to an office romance, the information should be kept private if that is the request of the couple involved. Many employers tell us their key concern over an office romance is because it leads to gossip, which wastes time and can lead to distrust and dissatisfaction, in turn affecting morale.
Put in place procedures that you and staff can follow should an office romance break down. Ensure that all staff, both new and existing, are aware of these policies that they understand the consequences before they make the decision to get involved.
Personal relationship policy
A suitable policy is the key to helping employers reduce liability when it comes to interoffice relationship problems. An email to all staff or a note in a work contract is not enough. Give effective training where the policy is explained, and all employees sign a checklist to confirm their attendance.
Love knows no boundaries, so it is important that employers put in place practical guidelines that protect staff and the business.