Kate Brooks
Partner, Solicitor & Head of Employment/HR Services
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Date Published:09 Mar 2016 Last Updated:16 Apr 2021

Romance at work… 3 in 4 admit to having considered it

Employment Law Advice

Love is in the air (or office…)

With Valentines Day fast approaching employers should have regard to love in the workplace. A survey detailed on the Acas website reveals that three quarters of respondents have considered embarking on a romance in the office and more than half have had a relationship with at least one colleague. Also 84% of the same people believed office romances have a negative impact on productivity.

Can you prevent workplace relationships?

An employer could consider having a clause in a contract which forbids relationships. This type of ban is only likely to be enforceable if there are specific legal reasons for the ban. Otherwise it could be found to be a breach of Human Rights legislation and it is unlikely to be workable in practice.

As an alternative employers should consider having a policy stating that relationships must be disclosed. Employers should consider the areas where workplace relationships are most risky for example in a manager/underling situation.

Risks associated with workplace relationships

Discrimination

Sex discrimination is when a person is treated less favourably as a result of their sex. An example would be the demotion or dismissal of an employee following the break up of a workplace relationship.

Sexual harassment occurs when a person is made to feel humiliated, degraded offended. This could be caused by for example joke emails, risqué magazines, pictures, flirting or touching. Sexual harassment may also occur when an employee is made to feel humiliated etc as a result of rejecting sexual advances.

Victimisation happens when an employee is treated badly as a result of raising a complaint about for example sexual harassment.

The only way to defend a discrimination or harassment claim is to show that you took reasonable steps to prevent the behaviour. The starting point is to have a robust Anti-harassment and bullying policy in place.

Breach of confidentiality

Relationships may encourage the sharing of confidential information outside the workplace. Be sure that you have robust confidentiality clauses in your contracts of employment to deter employees sharing such information.

Contracts and policies will help clarify the rules around workplace romances however if it does go wrong and you are considering taking disciplinary action make sure you follow your disciplinary procedures and the Acas code.

Should you wish to discuss the content of this blog any further, please do not hesitate to contact me on 01202 636210 or kate.brooks@ellisjones.co.uk.