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How to manage romance in the workplace

We spend most of our time at work, whether that be in the workplace or more recently as a result of the pandemic, via the internet and zoom. With all this time to chat and get to know colleagues, it comes as no surprise that romance has become commonplace in the modern workplace.

However, it is fundamental that employers remain aware of how to manage romantic relationships between colleagues and that training is provided to ensure compliance with workplace policies.

This is also crucial in light of a UK government response to a consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace published in July 2021. As a result of the consultation, the Government has committed to introducing a new proactive duty on employers to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent sexual harassment occurring within in the workplace.

It is currently unclear exactly what the full impact will be for employers however with that said, employers are advised to review their anti-harassment policies and deploy training programmes to employees to ensure they have measures in place to prevent workplace harassment.

Employers should also remain alert to the fact home/hybrid working has not caused workplace romance to cease. Reboot has the latest office romance statistics, taken from surveying over 4,000 people, which show that 48% of us would be willing to date a co-worker. With 22% of people admitted to dating their boss or manager.

The dynamics of modern-day relationships have been highlighted in the news recently such as following the release of the Netflix show ‘The Tinder Swindler’ which alerted many to the rise of online dating, the way in which relationships can form online and the consequences they can have.

Employers should still be aware that relationships may still form, and harassment can still occur online despite there not being a physical presence in the workplace. This makes it increasingly important for companies and their HR departments to adapt their approach to office romance in order to take care of employee wellbeing and ensure the best interests of the business.

Employers should be aware that relationships may still form, and harassment can still occur online despite there not being a physical presence in the workplace.

Actions for employers on workplace romances?

Employers should take the following action:

  • Ensure they have robust policies and procedures in place on sexual harassment and the rules surrounding workplace relationships. To impose a blanket ban on workplace relationships would, in reality, be difficult to enforce and may run the risk of contravening an individual’s right to a private life. Instead, the policies could set out that any such relationships at work should not affect an employee’s professionalism nor must they have an impact on, for example, promotional opportunities.
  • Encourage employees to come forward and feel safe as creating an open discussion will make an office romance seem more normal and stop it from becoming a topic for gossip.
  • Be aware of the legal risks associated if the relationship takes a turn for the worse. Potential claims could include sexual harassment, sex discrimination or victimisation. Again, employers must have, and enforce, robust policies to limit liability for any such claims.

If you require further advice on this topic or would like us to conduct a policy review for your company, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our employment law team.

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Disclaimer
This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

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