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Love is in the air: how to handle affairs in the workplace



Valentine’s Day might already be behind us, but love could still be in the air at your practice. If any of your employees enter into a romantic relationship, it is considered a workplace affair - some studies suggest that around 65% of office workers claim to have had workplace relationships. These romances are not always an issue, but if they go wrong and things become volatile – for instance, in the event of an extra-marital workplace affair – you need to know the right way to deal with the situation.


Relationships or affairs can have a damaging effect on other employees, especially in small teams. Workplace gossip often becomes rife; colleagues may complain of favouritism or feel uncomfortable at inappropriate displays of affection. This behaviour regularly leads to lower staff morale and decreased levels of productivity.


Sexual harassment claims are a common outcome of workplace affairs that come to a hostile end. Claims around unwarranted text messages, physical contact, vicious rumours or explicit materials can harm the reputation of your practice, costing you time and money.


So, how can you protect your practice and employees from any tensions brought on by workplace relationships? If the relationship isn't affecting your team, you might not need to do anything at all. If it is, your first instinct might be to break couples up or prohibit work romances in the first place – to do so would breach the Human Rights Act (1998), which protects your employees' right to privacy. Instead, your best bet is to try and manage workplace affairs carefully if and when you learn about their existence.


Implementing a policy around relationships in your workplace is a great place to start; the policy should set out clear clauses for employees to abide by, such as a requirement to inform management about the relationship, prohibition of certain behaviours and details about sexual harassment. You should include this in your induction materials and offer training on the subject to make your employees aware of the risks and consequences of inappropriate behaviour.


Whilst it is not your responsibility to intervene in all workplace relationships, there are a couple of exceptions. If you catch two staff members in a compromising situation, you may need to consider disciplinary action or dismiss them due to gross misconduct. Equally, if an employee engaged in a workplace affair is deemed vulnerable due to a mental health condition or their age, you have the right to share your concerns in a formal meeting.


If you need help negotiating problematic workplace relationships or drafting robust policies to protect yourself and your practice, email me at sarah.buxton@fta-law.com.


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