Can romance and the workplace be a match made in heaven?

By KMC Human Resources

14 Feb 2019

Valentine’s Day is here again and love is in the air. Whether you’re a romantic or take the annual celebration with a pinch of salt, if nothing else, Valentine’s Day can be a good opportunity to tell loved ones how much they mean.

But when it comes to romance and relationships, the story for employers can be different altogether. Workplace romances have the potential to distract employees, reduce productivity and even result in harassment claims. So how should employers deal with romantic encounters amongst staff members?

The European Convention on Human Rights, which is incorporated into UK law, states that everyone has the right to respect for their private and family life. So as far as the law stands, there is essentially nothing employers can do to prevent workplace romances occurring.

Equally, any action that was taken by an employer to separate or remove one of the parties in the relationship within or out of the business could be construed as sexual discrimination under the Equality Act. Furthermore, failing to employ a partner of an existing member of staff on the sole basis of your knowledge of the relationship is unlawful.

In most cases, relationships that do go on between employees will not cause too much trouble. In fact, if staff are happy and things are going well in their personal life, it can only be a good thing! However, where a relationship in the workplace begins to affect performance, it can be possible to follow poor performance procedures, such as issuing warnings and putting an improvement plan in place. All employees that have two years’ continuous service have rights that protect them against unfair dismissal, so if it did go as far as this, the correct procedures would have to be followed by the letter.

Issues can also arise where a relationship is struck up between staff at differing managerial levels – for example a team member and their direct line manager. In such instances, favouritism or perceived favouritism has the potential to be raised by other team members. Should the relationship end badly, this could also give rise to a harassment claim being raised.

Some companies have a personal relationship policy in place that requires relationships between staff to be disclosed. This can go some way to preventing such issues arising as the act of bringing the relationship into the open means Directors/business owners/HR can look out for issues before they develop into bigger problems.

Sometimes, relationships aren’t formed by employees, but rather businesses are formed by those in a relationship! Married couples/civil partners can work well together and there are many examples of successful businesses that have been either started by or run by couples in long-term relationships.

On the plus side, each knows each other’s strengths and weaknesses well, and the openness and honesty that exists between those in relationships can be beneficial in many ways. However, working with your partner isn’t for everyone – not least because it can be hard to leave ‘work talk’ in the office when you leave for the day. Having a clear set of rules around this is often of benefit, as is assigning clear and defined roles and responsibilities so each individual knows where their role starts and ends.

Organising holidays and time out of the workplace can also be particularly difficult – especially in the absence of other managers or trusted team members. It is important to find a way to make this work – even if only for a few days a year - and again, resolve to avoid talking about work whilst on annual leave together.

For further advice regarding workplace relationships, contact KMC Human Resources.

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