What do I do about workplace romance?

Workplace romance is a hot topic thanks to the now ex Deputy Prime Minister, Hon Barnaby Joyce MP.

Everyone has a personal opinion of the reporting on Barnaby Joyce’s relationship with a former staff member, but it is clear that the topic of romantic relationships at work is on the agenda.

The United States House of Representatives recently passed a resolution banning members from having sexual relationships with their colleagues.  However, at most other workplaces, employers are managing romantic relationships between staff without outright banning.

A good policy regulating romantic or sexual relationships at work manages risk without unreasonably prying into employee’s private lives.

The things to consider when looking at a policy to suit your workplace are:

Avoidance of Sexual Harassment

An employer has an obligation to take steps to ensure that the workplace is free from sexual harassment.

Conflict of Interest

Organisations need to know if an employee may have a conflict of interest when performing their role. This especially applies to managers who are in a relationship with someone who reports to them.

Appearance of Conflict of Interest

Even if a romance between employees does not affect the ability of an employee to perform their role, it is important that it is clear to all employees (and to the general public) that there is no suggestion of conflict of interest

Team morale

Employers are concerned with the effect of workplace relationships on the team. This is particularly the case where the relationship goes sour and the participants break up.

Workplace Relationship Policies

In order for an employer to manage the risk around workplace romance, there are two policies that need to be considered:

Disclosure of Employee/Employee Relationships Policy

There are a couple of ways to approach a relationship disclosure policy:

  • A policy which requires all employees to disclose sexual, romantic or other close relationships with other employees; or
  • A policy which encourages employees to disclose sexual, romantic or other close relationships where they think there is a conflict of interest, or where there might be a perception of a conflict of interest.

Sexual Harassment Policy

It is important to have a clear policy against sexual harassment that provides a definition of what sexual harassment is, that is unwelcome sexual conduct which makes a person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated where that reaction is reasonable in the circumstances.

Outright banning of relationships between employees is tricky.  Besides being difficult to enforce, it is unlawful in some states to discriminate against an employee because of ‘lawful sexual activity’ which includes sexual relationships between employees.

The policy should require that interactions between all employees at work remain professional.

What to do with disclosed information on relationships

You need to be sensitive to the highly confidential nature of the information that you are asking for. It is sensible for only one to two senior people to manage the register of relationships.  You must treat the information in the register as highly confidential.

Give HR Gurus a call if you need advice or help with your workplace polices.

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