HR Expert: Workplace Relationships
A client of mine is concerned that two of their employees have begun a romantic relationship. What should they do about this?

Addressing office relationships can be difficult as employees are likely to be protective over something they consider to be a personal matter. However, leaving this unchecked could create an uncomfortable situation in the workplace which means your client will need to approach this in a tactful manner.

Whilst your client may wish to ban workplace relationships altogether to avoid any problems that could occur if the relationship was to end badly, any attempts to do so are unlikely to work and may just lead to the relationship continuing on in secret.

With this being said, your client may still introduce a workplace policy on personal relationships to lay down some important ground rules.  These often include a reminder for staff to act in a professional manner with one another whilst at work as well as a requirement to declare any relationship to a senior manager or designated HR professional.

As each situation is likely to be different your client is advised to have an informal discussion with the individuals involved. This will give them an opportunity to explain their concerns and uncover the truth of the relationship. Although this may be an awkward conversation to have it is essential that your client remains discreet and wary of the employees’ right to privacy.

Next, it will be up to your client to assess the impact of the relationship before deciding on taking any action. Whilst your client must not treat these employees any less favourably for being romantically involved, they should consider how this relationship could impact the workplace dynamics, perhaps choosing to separate both individuals if they work within the same team.

This will be particularly important if the relationship is between a manager and a subordinate, as allowing them to work directly with each other could create tension amongst the wider workforce and even lead to claims of favouritism. If there are no alternative positions available to facilitate a job move, then your client will need to make sure that at the very least operational matters, such as requests for annual leave and decisions on bonuses, are processed by a different manager to ensure impartiality.

Although it may cause a degree of consternation for your client, taking a considered approach to workplace relationships will help to maintain a professional working environment. Ultimately any action taken by your client should be reasonable and backed up by a legitimate business aim, as over-reacting in this situation could alienate the individuals involved.

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