HR Expert: Banning Office Relationships
On Valentine’s Day, I was speaking to a client who wants to ban relationships at work because he thinks they create too many problems. Is he able to do this?

The subject of office relationships can be a difficult one. Whilst many employers actively look to foster a culture of togetherness and cooperation, the development of a romantic relationship between colleagues can create a difficult situation in the workplace. A recent study showed that 65% of office workers have been involved in at least one workplace romance. These figures highlight the importance of having a clear workplace policy on romantic entanglements in the likely event they develop in the workplace.

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Your client may choose to introduce a workplace policy that bans romantic relationships. There are advantages to doing this; relationships can create problems such as attracting gossip and causing friction between colleagues. Perhaps most problematic is the uncomfortable and disruptive scenario that could arise if the relationship were to end, forcing both individuals to continue to work together. There is a risk, however, that a total ban will infringe on employees’ rights to privacy.

In most instances, attempts to completely ban workplace relationships are unlikely to work and may just lead to these relationships being conducted in secret. The existence of covert relationships will pose a different problem for your client as it means they cannot manage this effectively as they are unaware of it. It may also lead to negative impacts on the workplace such as an increase in gossip or allegations of bias or favouritism.

The question then becomes how your client can manage romantic relationships rather than ban them all together. Some employers even believe the existence of romantic relationships shows their staff is comfortable at work and that this is indicative of a caring and considerate work culture.

Your client could implement specific policies that enable them to put in place specific rules about workplace relationships. Prohibiting managers from dating their subordinates is a common solution to avoid any favourable treatment and friction amongst the wider workforce. In the event that such relationships do occur, the policy can encourage the honest disclosure of this information to allow your client to relocate one party to a different team or department, neutralising the situation for the good of the business. As with all policies, employers should ensure all employees are well aware of the guidelines and the consequences should they fail to follow these guidelines.

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