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Romance in the Workplace - Yay or nay?

Anna Ford

Unsurprisingly, there is a wide range of useful information available to assist organisations in preventing and (should the need arise) addressing unwanted sexual advances, or indeed any type of inappropriate conduct in the workplace.  It therefore follows that many workplaces will already be equipped with relevant policies covering sexual harassment, and subsequent procedures to deal with such issues - at least to some extent. 

If your workplace is without such a policy, I would suggest that you make implementing one an immediate priority!

This is particularly important at the moment ,given the current spotlight on sexual harassment following the recent announcement by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins of the national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, which will focus on identifying examples of good practice and making recommendations for change.

But what about consensual, or reciprocated romantic relationships? Do you have a Relationships in the Workplace Policy covering those?  Have you considered whether this is even something that your workplace should have a policy on - or are you appalled by the suggestion?

Why you need a Relationships in the Workplace Policy

Whilst the idea of having such a policy in your workplace may initially conjure thoughts of intruding on the private lives of your employees (thus inherently defining it as a matter of no relevance to the workplace), the reality is that some romantic relationships do have the potential to impact on the workplace.

Below are a few relevant examples that I suggest taking into account when deciding if your organisation needs to implement a Relationships in the Workplace Policy:

What should your Relationships in the Workplace Policy look like?

It is important to remember that your overall objective should never be to intrude on the private lives of your employees - rather, the purpose of any 'Workplace Relationship Policy' should be to educate your employees on:

a) why you as the employer may need to know about the relationship; and 
b) how the relationship can be managed in the best interests of all workplace stakeholders.

The above points should be made very clear in the opening of the policy.

Ideally, your Relationships in the Workplace Policy will also clearly state:

Given that some relationships may be more of a concern than others due to their likely impact on the workplace (typically, the more senior the employees are, the higher the chance of conflict, and in turn, the potential that it will impact the workplace), the best thing for your organisation to do is implement a policy that allows you to manage each relationship  that is brought to your attention on a case by case basis and not adopt a one size fits all approach for dealing with relationships.   

Coleman Greig Lawyers are experts in Employment Law & WHS. We can assist your business in navigating the complex area of romantic relationships in the workplace and help you put policies in place to mitigate any potential risks to your business.

As a White Ribbon Accredited Workplace, Coleman Greig Lawyers takes a zero-tolerance stance with regard to any and all forms of violence against women.  If you are concerned that you may be a victim of domestic violence, we urge you to seek help via the White Ribbon Australia website.