Roses are red, violets are blue, I'm not sure WORK is the place for romance, are you?
It is not illegal to be involved with another colleague romantically – and according to research, around 36% of us have had an office romance at some point. However, the thing to be mindful of is how a workplace romance affects productivity and indeed other colleagues.
There are a number of issues that could potentially lead to legal problem areas, such as:
- Bullying: If a staff member is targeted, either for rejecting another’s advances or after a break up
- Favouritism: If a manager is seen to be giving favourable treatment to a romantic partner
- Harassment: If advances lead to an employees feeling harassed
- Unfair dismissal: If an employee is fired as a result of any of the above.
The biggest threat there is harassment, as any unwanted advances must be taken seriously under the Equality Act 2010. The definition of harassment is broad and can range from sending a Valentine’s card to suggestive advances.
When one organisation tried to “ban” office romances they said it was to protect the interests of staff and that it was nothing to do with invading privacy, but rather a measure to prevent and reduce the risk of sexual harassment cases.
Whilst an outright ban is difficult to enforce, there are questions as to whether employers have a right to breach employees’ private lives under the Human Rights Act. However, where measures or guidelines have been introduced – perhaps via a “workplace romance policy” (yes they do exist!) – then matters become slightly different. It means, as long as the employees agree to the terms set out, they can be held liable for breaking the rules of agreed conduct.
If you have any questions relating to your employment, or you are an employer looking to put any terms or contract in place – work romance or otherwise – then contact the employment team at Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.