How to Handle Office Romances

Call it a Hallmark holiday, call it a day to shower your significant other in flowers and chocolate or call it a day for singles to feel just a little more single. Whatever your views on the Valentine’s Day, the observance brings up all types of feels about romance. With the topic of L.O.V.E. love in the air, now is the perfect time to discuss office romances. Have there been signs of Cupid in your workplace?

Romantic relationships at work is topical right now for more than one reason. The #metoo campaign that took off globally in 2017 brought to light a disturbing amount of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace. This is just one of the risks associated with office romances. There are of course the obvious risks including lowered productivity, conflicts of interests and of course the awkward post-breakup period. As they say, love is a battlefield.

Let’s not forget that there are some positive outcomes from office romances. After all, reports say 50% of all working people will engage in an office romance at some stage. The trick for employers is to know what is going on at all times. Outlawing any sort of relationships between co-workers may just make them all that more appealing (forbidden love). Yet there are practical steps you can take to prevent the likelihood of costs to your business.

Set clear policies around consensual relationships

Of course, you’re not one to stand in the way of true love. But for liabilities’ sake, you need to know what is going on between co-workers in your organisation.  As mentioned before, ramifications of a romantic relationship can be huge, the largest risk being a conflict of interest which can impact other employees.  This is especially true if the relationship involves a manager and a subordinate.

Your workplace policies should set clear ground rules around relationships between employees in the workplace. We recommend that your policy requires employees to disclose any workplace relationships either to HR or management, even if it is just a fling. This way you can react accordingly like changing reporting structures or reassigning tasks/roles to minimise the risk of conflict.

Be sure to include clear consequences for nondisclosure, such as disciplinary action or termination.

Define unacceptable workplace conduct

What may seem like innocent office flirting, could be entirely something different. However innocent, public opinion has recently drawn a clear line in the sand when it comes to any sexual harassment allegation. Sexual harassment claims have ended the career of multiple high profile individuals and incurred massive financial and reputational consequences for the companies they worked for (see New York sues Weinstein co). It is important to be clear about what does and does not constitute sexual harassment, for the safety of your employees and your brand.

In cases of sexual harassment, employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of employees. However, if an employer can demonstrate they took all reasonable steps to prevent employees engaging in unacceptable workplace conduct, they may be able to avoid large fines and legal charges. A well-drafted sexual harassment policy is a step in the right direction.

Multiple channels to report or complain

Your employees need to be comfortable to Kiss-and-Tell without spreading workplace rumours. Make sure you have multiple channels for employees to report consensual and not consensual behaviour at work. Every business must have a detailed grievance procedure which allows for escalation if the employee is not satisfied with the result. Better to find out about any misconduct in the workplace when it happens not years later like most of the allegations that have arisen in the media recently. This way you can act proactively before any patterns of harassment become engrained or conflicts of interest arise.

Investigate carefully

The last piece of the puzzle is the investigation. When any allegations of harassment arise in your workplace, an employer needs to conduct an unbiased investigation into the incident. If you need advice on how to conduct a workplace investigation, the HR Assured Telephone Advisory Team is just a phone call away.

If the claims are numerous and serious, you might want to outsource the investigation to an experienced workplace relations law firm to gain legal professional privilege. This means you can get all the details of what went on without having to disclose everything to the courts if it will cause your brand reputational damage.

Whether you are a believer or not, Valentine’s Day seems to have a way of getting people thinking romantic thoughts. Romance in the workplace is inevitable and shouldn’t be outlawed. However as recent events have shown, there is a huge risk of relationships between work colleagues turning sour. The best defence is to know all the facts so you can react accordingly to protect your employees and company reputation.

Sparks flying at your workplace? Call us on 02 9083 0033 for a free call to one of our workplace relations consultants.