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Workplace romance and potential HR issues: How to make relationships work at work

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When it comes to finding love, couples are more likely to meet at work than by any other means – and that includes dating apps, nights out, shared interests and introductions through friends.

A recent survey found that 22% of partners got together through their jobs, suggesting that workplace romance is alive and well, despite more staff working from home.

But what happens if such relationships start to interfere with work? What can HR managers do to avoid potential issues such as breaches of confidentiality, conflicts of interest or fallout from a break-up?

Alexandra Bullmore, Employment Solicitor at Smith Partnership, looks at how best to approach workplace romances so they do not cause problems at work – or lead to claims of unfair treatment.

Despite the popularity of online dating, most people in a romantic relationship are still more likely to have found their partner at work.

In a recent survey by recruitment site Total Jobs, 22% of 5,795 respondents said they met their other half in the workplace, against 18% who were introduced though friends, 13% who matched through dating apps and 10% who got together on a night out.

While most people would agree that finding love is a good thing, romance that blossoms in the workplace can become a HR headache if it starts to interfere with work.

Conflicts of interests and confidentiality issues can arise – with secrets meant strictly for the boardroom shared in the bedroom. Similarly, colleagues might make complaints of preferential treatment, especially in situations where one half of the couple is in a more senior role than the other.

In the USA it is common for employees to have to enter into an employer agreement called a consensual relationship agreement if they are dating a work colleague, but no such regulation exists in the UK. An employer would find it difficult to enforce a similar policy here due to the EU regulations on a right to respect for private and family life. A ban on workplace relationships is unlikely to be enforceable in Britain.

To deal with such sensitive matters of the heart, UK employers need to take a softer approach. They may, for example, want to draft a policy requiring employees to at least disclose any relationships so that steps can be taken to remove any possible issues, such as changing reporting structures.

Relationships at work policies are an option, but they are still rare in the UK. Whatever action is taken, employers must always make sure that one person is not treated less favourably than another if they want to avoid any potential upset or claims.

If your workplace is experiencing difficulties caused by romantic relationships, then you need to seek employment advice. Every situation is different, so it is important to look at the specific facts of each scenario to prevent any claims being brought. At Smith Partnership we have a great deal of experience in this area and would be happy to help.

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