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Relationships in the workplace

With many people working long hours, it is no surprise that a number of relationships start in the workplace. How you deal with this as an employer should therefore be given some consideration and policies reviewed and updated if necessary.

In November it was well publicised that the chief executive officer of McDonald’s, Steve Easterbrook had left the business after the board of directors determined that the relationship he had with a work colleague was against company policy.  This widely publicised episode was certainly embarrassing for the business, so was their approach to relationships in the workplace the right one?

In the McDonald’s case their policy prohibited relationships between managers and their staff to ensure there was no abuse of authority in the workplace, so the board’s implementation of the policy and for Mr Easterbrook to stand down was the right decision.

It is certainly important that employers follow their own policy, especially with much greater awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace since the #MeToo movement began. It is therefore advisable for all businesses to have a written policy and guidelines for all staff regarding workplace relationships and the policy should be implemented equally for all staff.

Work relationships may not typically cause a problem, but an employer could be at risk to claims of harassment and or sex discrimination if a workplace relationship went on to end badly.

Employers should also consider the effect a relationship in the workplace could have on other employees, especially a relationship between a manager and one of their team, and the wider perception of issues such as fairness, confidentiality and impartiality.

Guidelines might for example stipulate that employees should not allow a personal relationship with a colleague to influence their conduct at work and include a requirement for disclosure of any work relationship, that may give rise to a conflict of interest or breach of confidentiality.

The difficulty for an employer might arise if they decided to dismiss an employee for being in breach of this type of policy and they might alternatively want to consider other options to dismissal such as offering an internal transfer.