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February 6, 2015
A recent US study reported that 10% of married couples meet as colleagues. With the amount of time spent in the office this number is unsurprising. However, office romances can cause problems for employers – this can range from simply a drop in productivity to conflict of interest or a costly harassment claim.
As an employer, you must remember that it is not just the romantic and emotional relationships (spouses and friendships) that you need to be alert to. Platonic relationships can still cause conflicts: immediate family, other close relationships such as cousins and in-laws, or financial relationships between staff members and clients.
Your staff should carry out their duties to the best of their abilities and certify that they avoid any conflict of interest where possible. It is important that personal relationships do not influence business decisions and interactions with other staff or clients.
What are my duties as an employer?
It’s your responsibility to make sure conflict of interest does not arise out of relationships at work. Areas that are often affected include decision-making and the boundaries and the maintenance of confidential information. In particular, you need to make sure that there is no actual or perceived interference with procedures like recruitment, disciplinary processes and development opportunities. These processes must be done in a transparent fashion to avoid an accusation of favouritism. Get this wrong and you can be on the receiving end of a discrimination claim.
Relationship policies can help mitigate any issues should any relationships develop or a relationship cause a conflict with any persons of interest to your business.
Relationship policies set a criteria for conflicting interests, for example they ensure the ability to remove an employee from the decision-making process should there be a particular relationship which could potentially result in bias.
To make things more complex, it’s worth remembering that it’s possible for employees and potential employees to make a claim of adverse action on the grounds of not being appointed due to their relationship, for example an employee’s marital status, so employers need to tread carefully.
How can policies assist in a situation where a relationship needs to be managed?
It is vital that you clearly outline your position on managing relationships in a policy that is distributed to all staff. These policies need to showcase the kinds of relationships that might create a conflict of interest and the situations in which conflict may arise.
It is very important to state that the staff must behave in the best interest of the employer and that processes, such as recruitment, must not be affected by the relationship. In line with this expectation, you should clarify in the policy that a relationship, its status and any real, perceived or actual conflict of interest is disclosed. It is also essential to have a robust harassment policy and grievance procedures so that matters can be investigated impartially. Again, these policies need to set the expectations of conduct in the workplace for all employees and include possible consequences of breaching the policy. Recruitment and disciplinary procedures are also important to reduce the risk of claims of bias or discrimination.
Relationship policies can be viewed as a bit heavy-handed but no business is too small not to be worried by potential issues. While office romances are a fact of life, they shouldn’t come at a cost to your business. These policies can help prevent conflict of interest issues, and will set expectations for your staff to help them work with people who are close to them.
If you would like to implement a relationship policy and protect your business from these risks call Employsure today on 1300 651 415, we are ready to take your call.
Serge Gorval – Claims Adviser
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