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How to: manage workplace relationships

19 March 2010

Despite the fact that lots of people meet their partners at work, workplace relationships can get you into trouble.

If the relationship is out in the open, there is always the risk of blurring boundaries, which could lead to allegations of poor performance or misconduct.

And when things go wrong, at best it becomes difficult for former lovers to continue to have a professional relationship at work, and at worst, it can lead to mutual recriminations and allegations of harassment for which the employer may be liable.


WHAT ABOUT A COMPLETE BAN ON SUCH RELATIONSHIPS?

The consensus is that a complete ban on workplace relationships is unworkable in a standard workplace setting. It is impractical to make such a ban stick, even if it were desirable.


DO ‘LOVE CONTRACTS' WORK?

One solution that has crossed the Atlantic is to oblige those involved in a relationship to sign a "love contract", confirming that the relationship is consensual and that neither will bring a claim for sexual harassment against the other if the relationship ends. However, such a contract will not stop a claim being brought, though it may help an employer defend such a claim.


WHAT OTHER SOLUTIONS ARE THERE?

It is arguable that the fairest solution is to avoid treating intimate workplace relationships as a special case, but to assess the risks they pose dispassionately, like any other workplace risk. But beware of a policy that could involve indirect sex discrimination - for example, by assuming that it is the more junior member of staff who should move jobs or resign if a relationship starts, or ends badly.


E-MAIL AT YOUR PERIL

A well-written communications policy will address excessive use of e-mails, the internet and social networking software at work. It will also look at the content of electronic communications to make sure they do not cause offence. This general guidance can be checked to make sure it is wide enough to cover the kinds of communications that lovers may be tempted to use.

Courtesy of Caterer's sister title Personnel Today.

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

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