When Office Romance Turns Fifty Shades Darker

It’s no surprise that so many of us meet  our significant other at work; we spend a lot of time with our work colleagues and often more time than we spend engaged in personal activities. However, cupid’s arrow doesn’t always strike it lucky and not everyone gets their happily ever. Office romances can often be as short lived as the good biscuits in the office biscuit tin and cause more trouble than a gust of wind to Donald Trump’s hair when colleagues fall out of love.

There’s no employment law against office romance and, in any event, it wouldn’t make much sense for employers to ban relationships at work because for some the risk of being caught would make it all the more fun. Love contracts are commonplace in the US but to dismiss employees for partaking in a ‘romantic liaison’ or office romance may result in claims of an unfair dismissal and sex discrimination.

And yet they have their obvious problems; one half of the couple doesn’t want things to end or the feeling isn’t mutual and flirting or sexual advances are most definitely not welcome. The possibilities for sexual harassment complaints are endless. There are also other issues to consider. For example, one half of the couple may have the power to make decisions over the other’s role. This could give rise to a conflict of interest and accusations of favouritism from jealous colleagues, and depending on their respective positions in the business how can the employer be sure that confidential information remains just that?

Rather than have a policy exclusively dealing with dating or romantic relationships between co-workers, employers should think carefully about any type of work relationship that could lead to some of the same issues arising in romantic relationships including favouritism, reduced productivity and conflict of interest and recognise that these relationships may occur between a variety of different individuals such as co-workers, clients and customers. Of course, the behaviour or conduct that will not be tolerated in the workplace including inappropriate physical contact or language or personal use of company communication systems should also be very clearly explained so there can be no doubt about the standards expected in the workplace whether the relationship in question is romantic or strictly professional.

Donna Reynolds is experienced in Employment Law and HR matters advising SMEs in Fife, Edinburgh and across Scotland.