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Are personal relationships at work ok?

By Victoria Brown

By Victoria Brown

The latest blog from Ladyboss HR explores personal relationships at work and discusses the policies that employers should consider adopting.

With the recent announcement of the president of CNN resigning after he revealed that he was romantically involved with a colleague, it did prompt the question that so many Employers ask me on a regular basis – is it ok to have a personal relationship in work?

I always remember working with an MD that had been made aware of a relationship blossoming within one of his teams.  He said to me ‘the downside of this is if they stay together, I will lose one of them, as they won’t want to work and play forever and if they split up, I will lose one of them, as they may not want to look at each other anymore.’

There are no specific laws that govern personal relationships, however Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1988 give employees the right to respect for a private and family life, meaning the employees have a right to a degree of privacy in the workplace.  Whilst employers have no right to interfere with their employee’s personal relationships, they do have the right to act when a relationship at work has a detrimental effect on their business.

If the business is suffering a detriment because of the personal relationship at work, then you can address the issue of concern under your organisation’s disciplinary procedure, just as you would for any other type of conduct issue.

However, it is not all doom and gloom and there can be some benefits to close personal relationships in an organisation;

  • Reduce recruitment costs through the introduction of a partner, family member to the business.
  • Greater commitment to the business, as there is a combined interest and genuine desire for the business to grow and succeed
  • I have found that recommendations from my Employees for their friends to work at my business, have generally been really good, as they too have the right values/culture fit.

On the flip side to this, there are some considerations for Employers and ways in which you can safeguard your business.  Examples of some of the risks to consider;

  • Subjective and unfair recruitment decisions.  I would strongly suggest that if there is close personal or family relationship between a candidate and one of your Employees….keep that Employee far away from the recruitment process, so that it is objective and fair.
  • Preferential treatment of an Employee.  Another challenge is if there is a personal relationship on the same team and one of which has a managerial role.
  • Confidential breaches.  If one of the employees has a more senior position and access to more sensitive information, there is the risk of a confidentiality breach.  It is particularly important that this is captured in your policy and the parties involved sign posted to this.

-Bullying and harassment – If a relationship turns sour, you may have the risk of one employee treating the other in an unfavourable manner and their position becoming untenable.  As Employer you have a duty of care to your people and you need to protect your business from any unwanted claim.

Check your own company disciplinary policy on the rules you have in place; and take appropriate action relevant to the circumstance of the case in line with them.

What should be in the policy?

Having a policy that is fair, open and transparent is very important and as I always say ensure that it is communicated and your people understand its purpose and scope.  The following areas should be considered for this;

  • Definitions of what constitutes a personal relationship
  • What happens if there is a breach of policy
  • How to deal with unwanted personal contact after a relationship has ended
  • How to manage personal relationships in the workplace, such as managing behaviours, recruiting, management issues, and conflict of interest
  • Consequences of breaching the policy

A policy that makes any employee choose between their relationship and their job in this day and age seems ridiculous.  At the end of the day, we are all Adults and spend a lot of time in work.  I always adopt a pragmatic approach to this.  If you are clear on the potential risks and you have a clearly defined policy and apply this consistently, then you should be able to sleep better at night.

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