Is love in the air at your workplace this Valentine’s Day? Do you have a HR policy for it?

14th February 2020

Love can blossom in many places and with the average person spending 90,000 hours of their lifetime at work, is there any surprise that 22% of people meet their partners at work? On Valentine’s Day, the spotlight on love is bigger than any other day of the year.

According to a study of over 5,000 people conducted by TotalJobs, the workplace tops the list for the place people met their significant other. This beats meeting them through a friend, online dating, and a night out.

The study revealed that 66% of people would consider dating a colleague and whilst there isn’t a law against it, it needs to be handled correctly in the workplace.

In November 2019, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook was dismissed due to having a relationship with another employee. The fast food chain said the relationship went against company policy.

It’s important for all businesses to have a policy on workplace relationships, but should it be as strict as this?

Employers

Having a clear policy that is well communicated is vital. Companies should weigh up employees’ right to a private life and the company’s rights to protect itself. The entitlement to a private life is protected by the Human Rights Act 1998 Article 8.

The policy should ensure everyone is treated the same and apply to everyone. This includes seniority, sexuality, and gender. A sexual harassment policy is commonplace to ensure relationships are reciprocated and consensual.

Your policy may include the need for an employee to inform their line manager of a workplace relationship. This is so their reporting lines can be amended if needed if there is a potential for conflict or if an employee needs to transfer to another department.

Relationships between managers and subordinates can present different scenarios and it goes without saying that employees should not receive preferential or unfavourable treatment such as for promotions/pay rises.

Employees

If you do start into a relationship with a colleague, it’s wise to inform your manager even if it isn’t company policy to avoid them finding out through the office rumour mill. Results from the TotalJobs survey found that 3% of employees went straight to HR to disclose their workplace romance.

PDAs (public displays of affection) should be avoided at work as should bringing your relationship into work in any way including on Valentine’s Day! Don’t let that argument overflow into the office. A ban on intimate behaviour during work time could be enforced as well as requiring employees to keep all workplace communications professional.

Remember other elements of your employment contract that could affect your relationship, for example not disclosing confidential company information to your partner.

Consider what would happen if the relationship were to end. Don’t let it impact your job and colleagues in any way or have a negative impact on the business as a whole. One in three workers in the TotalJobs study thought that breaking up with a colleague would negatively affect workplace dynamics.

Shockingly, 11% of people who took part in the study felt they were discriminated against because of their workplace romance. An employee must have at least two years of continuous service to contest an unfair dismissal, however, if they are dismissed and their partner isn’t, they could have ground for unfair dismissal based on gender or sexuality which can be pursued regardless of the length of service with the company.

 

Considering everything above, the policy needs to be carefully executed. It’s important to get professional HR advice before implementing/updating any rules and when better to start than on Valentine’s Day?

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