As Cupid draws back his bow, according to
statistics, the likely recipients will be workers in the workplace.
A survey conducted for Lloyds TSB revealed that more than 70% of
workers have had a relationship with someone they have worked with.
A third said they met their life partner at work.
Copyright 2006 - 2010 Taylors Solicitors
Office relationships can be a taboo subject. Romances are frowned
upon as they may lead to lower production, a decline in standards
and intense atmospheres (depending on the relationship is
progressing). The real fear for Employers is when the
relationship turns sour.
This can create a divide, not only between the two individuals but
their co workers. Some co-workers may feel uncomfortable due to
divided loyalties. Inevitably this does lead to a decline in
production with distracting tensions in the workplace.
It is often upon the break down of a relationship that legal claims
may follow such as the high profile case of Faria Alam's
relationship with Sven-Goran Eriksson. The FA had to defend claims
of Constructive Dismissal, Sexual Harassment and breach of contract.
It is when a relationship becomes non-consensual that a claim for
Sexual harassment may follow. Sexual Harassment is now defined in
its own right and encompasses "unwanted conduct on the grounds of
that persons sex" and/or " where a person engages in any form of
unwanted verbal, no-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature
that has he purpose or effect of violating that person's dignity, or
creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or
offensive environment for that person" It is therefore easy to see
how this definition could be easily satisfied when one party to the
relationship still desires the relationship to be continuing.
Remember, an employer can be vicariously liable for the actions of
its employees' in the course of their employment, not only for
Sexual Harassment but also under the Protection from Harassment Act
1997 (to which there will be no defence if the conduct is
There is a defence to vicarious liability for Sexual Harassment and
that is where an Employer can demonstrate that that they took all
reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring. This would
include your Equal Opportunities policy and implementation.
The use of Love Contracts (a US prodigy) are now being considered by
major companies in the UK Such Love Contracts would place an
obligation on individuals to disclose when they embark upon a
relationship with a fellow colleague and confirm that it is
The may also impose an obligation to notify the Employer as soon as
the relationship ends (enabling the Employer to take reasonable
steps to avoid harassment issues arising). Some will set out the
boundaries to stay within in particular the need to keep their
relationship strictly professional whilst at work.
Others may give the Employer the right to consider a transfer of one
of the individuals, or alter duties to keep them apart at work.
These contracts could be incorporated into the Staff handbook or a
separate code of conduct created.
Whether Love Contracts would be enforceable largely depends on what
it is seeking to do. A complete ban on office relationships for
example may not hold water. Likewise the dismissal of one or both of
the individuals may be unfair. Imposing a transfer may give rise to
a constructive dismissal claim. As usual it all depends on what is
reasonable in all the circumstances.
At the very least the Love Contract would entitle you to find out
about the relationship earlier on, set out guidelines for the
individuals to follow and allow you to take necessary steps should
the relationship fail.