Recently it has been reported that McDonald’s sacked their CEO for having a relationship with an employee which was against company policy and allegedly showed poor judgement in regards to relationships at work. The Tribunal system will determine whether that dismissal was fair but in the meantime it’s probably worth looking at your own policies on this.

Image by Kevin Phillips from Pixabay

Some organisations might take a ‘what they do outside of work is none of our business’ approach and to a certain extent they’re right. However, we all know that what happens in our private lives can spill over into our workplace. Even if you only employ one half of the couple, if a blazing row occurred at home that morning, your employee’s mood is definitely effected and maybe their concentration too.

But if you employ both halves there are some potential risks. Here are just a few scenarios that you should consider in regards to relationships at Work:

  • Financial processes: do the two parties work in roles where they could sign off payments without any other checks? While we’re not suggesting that your employees would, if they can authorise payments for each other then there is a risk that they could commit fraud. Most people wouldn’t consider it but what if one half of the couple fell on really desperate times and needed money fast?
  • Favouritism: this doesn’t even have to be real, but if the relationship is common knowledge or strongly suspected and they work in a manager/subordinate dynamic, there may be a perception amongst others that the subordinate is getting special treatment or is protected in some way. This may give rise to grievances, particularly when a colleague’s job is at risk in some way.
  • Break ups: even if the two don’t work in the same team, the impact of a breakup could go beyond the normal upset. It could spill into unwanted attention and behaviour, particularly if the break was a one-sided decision, giving rise to claims of sexual harassment.

None of this means that you should put a blanket ban on workplace relationships. Indeed, such a ban could be deemed an intrusion of the right to a private life. Nor should you go all ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and require all employees entering into a relationship with a colleague to declare the relationship and sign a disclaimer absolving you, the employer, of any liability from the fall out.

However, you do have a right to consider the impact and risks that a workplace relationship might have on your business. You could consider having a policy that for example requires a declaration where the colleagues have a manager/direct subordinate relationship or are both in a position with financial responsibility/accountability. This would enable you to put extra checks in place or redeploy one of the parties.

As for potential claims of favouritism or harassment following a relationship, a full investigation should be undertaken to establish the facts. If there has been some wrongdoing, appropriate management action should be taken including disciplinary action and reviewing the impact a workplace relationship is having on the workforce.

There may be occasions where you simply can’t continue to employ both halves of the couple. In these cases, you will need to enter into settlement agreement conversations, but the required payment is likely to be quite high as it is unlikely that there is a potentially fair reason for dismissal.

If you’d like more information about managing Relationships at Work as an employer or an employee, or if you’d like and other HR advice, please get in touch.

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