Ain’t love grand? As an employer, your answer to that question may be, ‘sometimes, no’. While it is commonplace for romance to spark in the workplace, the practical ramifications of workplace relationships, particularly when the relationship turns sour, can be plainly uncomfortable and awkward.

While you can’t stop love, as an employer, there are some practical steps you can take to manage this issue in the workplace:

Have in place proper policies

Policy documents set out how employees will conduct themselves in the workplace, and can detail such things as interoffice communications, no touching or explicitly sexual conduct and the like. By having it in writing, your employees will know precisely what is required of them.

Require disclosure at the outset

While it may not be comfortable, it is important that inter-office romances are disclosed so they can be managed. Putting in place a system of disclosure will ensure you have the information needed to manage your team in such circumstances.

Be aware of your legal rights

In the recent case of M v Westpac Banking Corporation [2015] the Fair Work Commission upheld the employer’s decision to terminate M’s employment based on, among other things, his romance with a member of staff under his management. Here, the commission indicated to employers and employees alike that dismissal can be justified due to the various ramifications which may arise as a result of an office affair and, in particular, failure to disclose same to the employer.

Be aware of your legal obligations

In a recent case before the Fair Work Commission, an employer was found to have unfairly dismissed an employee and was ordered to pay her maximum compensation after her employment was terminated in circumstances where she had obtained a ‘restraining order’ (as they are commonly referred) against a co-worker, who also happened to be her former spouse. Just because such arrangements made things inconvenient or uncomfortable, did not give the employer the right to terminate.

Take employee concerns seriously

If an employee comes to you with an issue or a complaint arising from, for example, witnessing something between the star crossed lovers usually reserved for out of office hours, it is important you take action. Counselling sessions should be held and followed up, and the process documented. When necessary or there is a threat of sexual harassment, legal advice should be sought immediately.

Conclusion

If you are having ongoing issues with inter-office romances, or are concerned about the ramifications of same on your workplace generally, and want to know what you can and can’t do in relation to the issue, talk to an employment lawyer who will be able to guide you through the issues, and ensure you and your business are not the ones left, well, heartbroken!

Emma Jervis

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