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Valentine’s Day – Can employers control a workplace romance?

Published February 14, 2022 (last updated on June 28, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Content Writer


There is no point denying it, romance can blossom in the workplace. Co-workers often spend more time together than their own family, and the shared experience of working together can lead to the formation of strong emotional bonds between colleagues.

Of the 25,000 averages calls Peninsula receives to its advice line for business owners per month, 5,000 of which are in relation to employee management – part of which involves employers enquiring on how to act when a romance forms in the workplace.

Love is common, but to be clear, banning a workplace romance outright isn’t a realistic or enforceable position an employer can take. At best, it just encourages people to sneak around, while at worst it can be considered a breach of privacy.

“We hear this often from our clients and while banning is out of the question, an option employers should take is to introduce policies (should they not already have any in place) that provide clearer definitions of acceptable workplace behaviour,” said Peninsula Business Partner Emma Dawson.

“This allows employers to act if romantic relationships impact on work duties or conduct, without banning the romance altogether. Additionally, employers can introduce a ‘Disclosure Policy’, obliging loved-up employees who enter into a romantic relationship with a colleague to disclose the relationship to HR.

“The intent of such a policy is not to monitor or interfere with the love birds, but to ensure steps can be taken to avoid potential conflict of interest situations. It’s a measure that can help protect the employees, as well as the business.”

Workplace romances can become especially complicated when the relationship is between a supervisor and a direct report. The power imbalance can add a murky undertone to such a relationship.

Some companies resort to banning these relationships outright. While this may seem heavy-handed, other companies have introduced policies whereby a romantic relationship will automatically trigger a change of reporting lines, or the manager is transferred to a different department. It’s always in the employer’s best interests to consider how they might handle these specific kinds of relationships if there is a power imbalance.

It goes without saying in certain cases however that harassment might be taking place, rather than a romance. If this is the case, a workplace must have a current and enforceable sexual harassment policy.

“The existence and enforcement of a sexual harassment policy isn’t contingent on the prospect of workplace romance,” continued Ms Dawson.

“Sexual harassment policies are an essential feature of an employer’s standard suite of HR policies and procedures that clearly define the standards of acceptable workplace behaviour.

“Employees who may be the victim of unwanted sexual advances need to have adequate support and access to a reporting mechanism that alerts their employers to inappropriate behaviour so swift action can be taken,” she concluded.


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