HR Expert: Office Breakups
Two of my client’s employees have recently ended their romantic relationship and this is causing some friction in the workplace. What’s the best way to manage this?

Romantic relationships between co-workers can be common, with 65% of office workers admitting to having been involved in a workplace relationship according to a study by Approved Index. Therefore, there will always be a risk that a difficult break-up could occur under your client’s watch.

Dealing with a break-up at work can be tricky and your client is advised to approach the matter with care and consideration. As a first step, they should look to mediate between both affected parties, encouraging them to discuss any issues to try and find an amicable solution. With this being said, your client should remember that they are not a relationship counsellor and should instead focus discussions on how they can prevent this ongoing personal situation from becoming a problem in the workplace.

Your client is free to remind staff that they have a business to run, and a duty to the rest of the workforce to ensure a positive and productive working environment. As such, they should ask staff whether any alternative working arrangements would help alleviate the situation. This could include one individual moving into a different team, or amending existing work schedules.

When discussing potential solutions your client must avoid taking sides or appearing to favour one individual over another, as this could lead to claims of discrimination under certain circumstances. It is also important to avoid a situation where one individual feels the need to resign after being placed in an uncomfortable position as this could lead to claims of constructive unfair dismissal.

Once an amicable solution has been agreed, your client should remind employees of the need to remain professional during working time. Whilst emotions may naturally be running high for some time afterward, staff should be encouraged not to engage in office gossip or ‘mudslinging’ as this will only exacerbate the situation.

Following this, your client may understandably want to put a policy in place on workplace relationships to guard against similar incidents in the future. However, they are encouraged to avoid the temptation to place an outright ban on office relationships. A complete ban is likely to be ineffective and could actually be counterproductive, by encouraging staff to circumvent the rules and conduct relationships in secret.

Instead, any policy should outline rules on who staff must notify when a romantic relationship begins and what steps your client may consider taking to prevent relationships having an adverse impact on the integrity of the workplace.

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