Research has shown that over 60 per cent of UK employees say they have had a romantic relationship with a colleague. However, some employers institute relationships policies, in order to address difficulties that may arise from this circumstance.
Accusations of favouritism could be made by other colleagues if a subordinate and a manager are linked romantically. Equally, complaints concerning sexual harassment may be made by either party to the relationship if it turns sour. Added to this, a romantic relationship can cause the participants to become less productive or bring their private issues with each other to work.
Conversely, there may be legal implications for employers who wish to ensure that romantic partners, including husbands and wives or civil partners do not work together on the same team. For example, the Sex Discrimination Act means employers cannot allow direct or indirect discrimination on the grounds of their employees’ marital status; meaning they cannot be treated less favourably than unmarried persons of the same sex.
Additionally, The Employment Equality [Sexual Orientation] Regulations prohibits discrimination against gay, lesbian or bisexual workers on the grounds of their sexual orientation. If an employee has disclosed their sexual orientation at work and conducts a same-sex relationship with a colleague, employers should be careful that they are not accused of discrimination if they attempt to address the situation.
Furthermore, Article 8 of The Human Rights Act protects the qualified right to respect for private and family life and the right to freedom of expression. This means restrictions employers might wish to impose on romantic relationships at work could be seen as unreasonable or restrictive.
The best policy may be for employers to encourage open disclosure about romantic relationships in the workplace. If there is no atmosphere of secrecy the employer can demonstrate fairness toward a range of situations and their consequences. Employers should ensure that company policy on romantic relationships is communicated throughout the organisation and that managers have guidance to deal with the issues.
On the other hand, if there are serious breaches of discipline due to romantic relationships between colleagues, for example, financial exposure, breach of confidence or a conflict of interest, the employer should be able to impose sanctions on employees involved, up to and including dismissal.