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Workplace Romances: Are not always smooth sailings, how can Employers manage love-struck Employees?

Love is in the air and as we head into Valentine's Day, it's worth considering how Employers navigate the circumstances where two Employees are in a romantic relationship. Given the amount of time that colleagues spend together while at work, workplace relationships are not uncommon. A recent 2023 study by Forbes found that over 60% of adults have had a workplace romance.
 
However, several challenges may arise which can have a detrimental impact on a business, particularly if a relationship turns sour or, a person is responsible for managing, appraising, and remunerating their romantic partner - so these situations need to be managed carefully and appropriately.
 
There are also considerations around potential conflicts of interest and perceived favouritism to possible claims of sexual harassment, Employers must navigate these matters with care to maintain a harmonious and legally compliant work environment.


Cautionary Tales of Workplace Relationships

In September 2023, one high-profile cautionary tale that caught international attention was the resignation of BP’s chief executive Bernard Looney over failure to disclose personal relationships with colleagues. This is nothing new, back in 2019 there was a prominent case in which McDonald’s CEO, was found to have violated company policy which prohibited dating, between Employees and although the relationship was consensual, he was dismissed.
 
Closer to home, we have seen cases before the WRC involving romantic relationships impacting adjudications on unfair dismissal. In one such
case, a woman who co-founded a company with her husband was awarded €25,000 in compensation after being unfairly dismissed from her role during the breakdown of their marriage.

Unfortunately, there is also the matter of unwanted advances and sexual harassment in the workplace. In
September 2023, a female postal operative was awarded €53,560 compensation for sexual harassment in the workplace. In that case, there were workplace policies in place to prevent such behaviour. However, the key learning from that adjudication is that it is not sufficient to just have the policies, the policy needs to be lived with Employee awareness, training and adherence to such policies.

These are just some possible scenarios of challenging situations for Employers, but there are so many other variables that need to be managed carefully when considering workplace romances. So what can Employers do to prepare for possible challenges?


Key Considerations for Employers:
  1. Policy Development: Establish clear policies addressing workplace relationships, including disclosure requirements for relationships that might create conflicts of interest. Any such policy should strike a balance between Employees’ right to a private life and the Employer’s right to protect its business interests.

     

  2. Awareness and Training: Conduct regular training sessions for both Employees and management on the company's policies regarding workplace relationships, discrimination, dignity at work and sexual harassment.

  3. Consistent Policy Application: Ensure policies are applied fairly and consistently across all levels of the Organisation to prevent claims of discrimination or unfair treatment.

  4. Support Mechanisms: Provide support, such as counselling or mediation, for Employees involved in workplace romances to proactively manage potential issues.

  5. Hierarchical Relationships: If an Employee manages a romantic partner, consideration could be given to an alternative manager or to transfer one of the Employees to a suitable alternative role, following a discussion with both Employees and a written agreement to any such changes. Any decision to apply such changes should be taken carefully and must be supported by a business rationale based on the roles involved and the specific risks and conflicts identified as an outcome of the relationship. It is important to ensure that any action taken could not be deemed discriminatory – either directly or indirectly.

  6. Disciplinary Procedures: If your business is suffering a negative impact due to personal relationships between Employees, then you can address the issue of concern under your Disciplinary Procedure, just as you would for any other type of conduct issue.

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      Romantic relationships in the workplace require careful management to avoid legal and ethical pitfalls. By implementing clear policies, providing training, and offering support, Employers can navigate the complexities of workplace relationships while protecting both their Employees and their Organisational interests. Employers experiencing difficulties in this area are encouraged to seek professional HR advice to ensure compliance and maintain a positive work environment.


      Don't let the intricacies of managing workplace romances become a challenge for your business. If you are interested in getting support from our experts at Adare Human Resource Management, please contact us at 01 561 3594 or email info@adarehrm.ie.

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