The Importance of a Workplace Relationships Policy

“McDonalds boss fired after dating employee” makes for a fairly shocking headline.  But read a little behind the scenes and you may find yourself having great sympathy with their position and the importance of a workplace relationships policy.

Many people meet their partners at work, so will struggle to comprehend how a “forward thinking” company in this era could implement a policy that seeks to make that relationship a matter for the employer’s concern.  However, when you think about this in the context with which it may apply to your own business, you may begin to question whether you too should consider implementing guidelines.

How is this any of my business…?

Well, as 99.9% of you reading this will know, relationships don’t always last forever.  That in itself creates a problematic environment for the colleagues and further could impact negatively on business efficiency.  But let’s not skip straight to the end, what about when two of your employees first fall madly in love…. Do they use work email to discuss matters that really should be private (likely to be a breach of your IT/Comms Policy)?  Do they talk about their private life at work in front of colleagues, making them uncomfortable or embarrassed? Then there’s the rules and boundaries that you may have about managers sharing confidential and sensitive business information with other staff, how strictly do you think that can be observed if they’re in a relationship with someone?  Suddenly their pillow talk may actually be something that you want and indeed need to consider regulating.

Personal relationships in the workplace have the potential to undermine the integrity of your decision making and systems, there can be perceived bias in every decision that a staff member in a relationship with another makes.  The fear of favouritism may in itself lead to reduced morale.

In the era of the #MeToo movement, a policy setting out boundaries regarding workplace relationships will serve to reinforce existing discrimination and harassment protections that you should already have in place.

Whilst all staff have the right to a private life and may have a relationship with someone in the workplace, the recent news should serve as a helpful reminder to businesses to think about what guidelines may be appropriate to put in place.  It’s a fine line to tread when drafting, striking the balance between protecting employees (including those in the relationship) and your business as against appearing to stray into the realms of something which by its very nature is eminently personal.

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    About the author

    Jayme NicholsonPartner and Head of Employment

    Jayme is a Partner and Head of our Employment team

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