• By Sam Cook
  • In
  • Posted Tuesday February 10, 2015

Workplace valentines: What are the risks to employers?

The workplace is one of the most common places to meet a partner, something that is often attributed to the amount of time spent together and the idea that working in the same place means you probably hold shared interests.

The following are some interesting statistics from surveys carried out with UK employers and employees by XpertHR and RPCushing Recruitment:

  • 1 in 3 employers have prohibited relationships between managers and subordinates
  • 1 in 6 employers have prohibited relationships between employees and customers
  • 1 in 7 employers have prohibited relationships between employees in the same team
  • 1 in 10 workers have engaged in sexual activity in the office

Managing people can be tricky at the best of times, but when you introduce romantic relationships into the mix, it can result in headaches for employers.

Due to Medical Practices being smaller and friendly environments, relationships can be even more commonly occurring than in other workplaces.

So, what are the risks?

Relationships - or the breakdown of relationships - can cause many risks to employers and Employment Tribunals often throw up cases where a relationship has gone wrong - and the implications on the Employer have been costly.

Employers shouldn’t assume it is not their responsibility, as all employers have a duty of care towards their employees and are responsible for the management of anything that occurs in the workplace.

Sarah Nandhra an Employment Solicitor at Avery & Walters states,

" When a workplace romance sours, it can expose a business to increased liability, especially if the relationship has been between a senior member of staff and a subordinate.  There may be allegations of preferential treatment or more seriously, sexual harassment cases."

Let’s have a look at some of the claims or issues that can arise:

  • Sexual harassment or harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Claims can result from persistent unwanted advances which continue after the relationship between employees has ended. Failing to address this or manage in line with Company procedures could result in the Employment Tribunal holding the employer responsible.

  • Sex discrimination claims under the Equality Act are most likely (in volume of Tribunal Cases) to be brought by junior female employees where they have been moved to another department as a solution to a relationship or when trying to deal with the aftermath. This could be as a result of less favourable treatment in the workplace, or the view that career opportunities have been diminished.

    Alternatively, other employees may claim that they receive less favourable treatment than the employee in a relationship with a senior manager.

  • Abuse of position, conflicts of interest or a breach of trust and confidence in the employee can put employers at risk from a variety of issues such as data protection, confidentiality or security breaches, as well as misuse of time and resources and (in some cases) fraudulent activity.

  • Inappropriate behaviour in the workplace can occur which can result in an unpleasant working environment, potential reputational damage and the potential for a real impact on performance.

  • Constructive dismissal could be claimed by an employee where the actions of other employees or the employer has resulted in a resignation and the employer has failed to act on this.

How can you prevent problems arising from workplace relationships?

There are a few things that can be done to prevent issues occurring.

  • It is advised that all employers have codes of conduct, equal opportunities and bullying and harassment policies in place. This sets out the type of behaviour that is, and is not, tolerated in the workplace.

  • Some organisations have introduced Relative and Relationship policies which state any relationships or family connections should be declared, particularly in situations where one reports into another.

    Although this can help prevent any issues such as dishonest/fraudulent activity, it can be quite difficult to enforce the management of this. For example how employees are then separated or subjected to additional monitoring can raise further questions as to whether the Practice is being indirectly sex discriminative or breaching an employee’s privacy. FPM’s policies and procedures library, does however, have a Personal Relationships At Work Policy which can be used by members.  

  • In the US, ‘love contracts’ banning workplace romances were introduced but in the UK it is potentially a breach of human rights to put a complete ban on office relationships where people have the ‘right to respect for family and private life’. ACAS also advise that contractual clauses forbidding office relationships are unlikely to work. 

Finally...

Before dismissing someone for poor behaviour linked to a broken relationship an employer could consider mediation. Not only can mediation be a great tool in rebuilding relationships and resolving issues in the workplace, it is also a good step to reduce the chances of successful legal action. Internal mediation can be very useful, but where an independent professional is required, ACAS can carry out the mediation for you (for a fee) where they can also give formal recommendations and put in place an agreement. Mediation is voluntary (for both employer and employee) but can strengthen a case.

For specific queries regarding employment issues contact advice@firstpracticemanagement.co.uk where you question will be treated in confidence and will normally be answered (by email) within 2 working days of submission.

Alternatively, members can visit the FPM policies and procedures library for more information on personal relationships in the workplace.

 

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