A recent survey, carried out by HRXpert amongst 200 employers, revealed that almost half of the employers questioned have experienced issues in the workplace due to close relationships between employees.
Major problems highlighted in the survey and directly resulting from relationships at work are: inappropriate behaviours; favouritism; bullying; abuse of authority; breach of confidentiality; time wasting; and conflict of interest. All, potentially, having further detrimental impact on staff morale and productivity.
Other relationships can develop, eg between employees and clients, suppliers or other business partners. Family relationships or very good friendships should also be considered.
One measure to adopt is introducing and communicating a policy specifically dealing with workplace relationships. It should focus on balancing the risk posed by relationships with employees’ rights to privacy and avoiding unnecessary intrusion into employees’ private lives.
Then take appropriate action. Everyone should be treated in the same way and in order to avoid a claim of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, speak and deal with both partners equally (men and women) and follow the same procedures when dealing with same sex relationships.
Introducing a total ban on relationships may not be advisable, as to prove a blanket ban is proportionate to the company’s legitimate aim to protect employees against less favourable treatment, might be challenging. A policy which assesses the risk posed by relationships and which then recommends appropriate and proportionate actions in consultation with the employees, would be more sensible.
- Identify a legitimate aim
- Define relationships. For example, close personal or family relationships as well as intimate relationships
- Ensure it applies to everyone regardless of seniority and service
- List unacceptable behaviours, ie intimate behaviours such as kissing, holding hands
- Define where and when it applies
- Clarify employees‟ responsibility to declare the start and/or end of a relationship
- Treat everyone fairly and equally and in strict confidence
- List possible outcomes from transfer to another role or department, through to disciplinary sanctions up to dismissal