Uh-oh. Yep, it can definitely feel awkward if you have employees sleeping together/ or have slept together 😍
Believe it or not, I get a fair few calls from small business owners, looking for advice on employment law and how to manage “romantic relationships” in the workplace.
Affairs of the heart shouldn’t cause you problems per se. Especially if both parties are single (and one doesn't manage the other), and it's evolving into a potential relationship! According to YouGov research – nearly a fifth of Brits met their current or most recent partner at work, so it's going to happen in some businesses.
But whether it's a love affair, a one-night stand or a relationship, if you find out, it does need to be handled delicately. You need to be level-headed and play by the rules and not be inclined to sack one of them immediately. Unless of course, you want to end up in an employment tribunal for discrimination or unfair dismissal.
Your job is to strike a balance between protecting your business, whilst remembering your employees have the right to choose who they date, marry, or spend the night with.
REMEMBER, IT CAN BE A LOVELY THING
It isn’t a crime for your employees to get it together on your watch. There aren’t many laws – that can and should – stop this from happening. So, as much as you might despise it, you’ve gotta accept it and avoid doing anything rash, like sacking your employees. 🙅
Don’t get me wrong, I'm sure you’ve got enough on your plate, without having to deal with this. But a romance amongst your employees can be a joy – causing you absolutely no bother at all.
PROTECT YOURSELF WITH GOOD HR POLICIES
It's important to have a range of essential HR policies and procedures.
A Personal Relationships at Work policy can help you and your employees to understand what’s expected of each other – in what can be an awkward situation for both parties.
This also helps with the company culture and protects employees from feeling pressured into unwanted relationships by senior staff (and when disciplinary action may be needed). Especially if you don't have an human resources department.
Usually referred to as Personal Relationships at Work Policies – they tend to stipulate things like:
- What professional relationships look like
- Whether or not you want your employees to tell you if they’re romantically involved with one another. And if so, when and who they should tell.
- The behaviours you do or don’t want to see at work. And what happens if this is ignored. After all, work environments are professional settings. You don’t want domestic scenes spilling out onto your sales floor 🚫
- What changes you might make, once you’re aware of the situation. For example, if one half of the couple is responsible for deciding what bonus the other half gets – that’s not right. So, you may have to move them to a new role, or change their job description
- Conflict of interest situations - and how these will be managed
- Social media rules (if relevant)
WHAT TO DO IF THINGS TURN SOUR 🤔
One-night stands, office flings, workplace relationships – whatever you want to call them – can occasionally cause you headaches.
Part of the issue when it comes to things like this is your employee's not being honest or open with you. If they have tried to keep it a secret, you may wonder what else they are keeping from me. But with things like this, your employees may just not know whether to tell you, and if so when. They may be afraid of being judged / penalised or fired.
For example, when the relationship goes through a rocky patch, or comes to an end. It can cause animosity between the couple – and their peers too – who may choose to get involved or take sides. It can also be a distraction for your other employees who are getting embroiled in gossip about the relationship.
If there’s favouritism or special treatment going on – this can cause upset in the ranks. For example, if the couple are passing the best sales leads to each other to increase their chances of getting a big, fat sales bonus.
Another issue might pop up when a senior person is seeing a more junior employee. The subordinate staff member might feel like they can’t say no to the relationship, fearing repercussions at work, or even losing their job. 👂
So your role is to stay vigilant and nip any behavioural or performance issues in the bud as you normally would. And always refer to your policies, if you have them. It’s not too late to get them in place now.
Unacceptable behaviours can lead to disciplinary procedures and even dismissals. To avoid this, not only do you need policies in place, but you also need your people to understand why they exist, and what they actually mean.
Remember, you also have a duty of care to your employees, so there are safeguarding issues to watch out for. For example, bullying and harassment, unwanted attention, and verbal or physical abuse.
👉 By the way, if you do ever feel the relationship is unwanted, this could lead to their dismissal, but before you do anything drastic there is a legal process you need to follow, so make sure you download my Disciplinary Toolkit.👉
Also, check out my Employee Handbook Template – a bunch of all the super important HR policies for your business (including Personal Relationships at Work).
WHEN ROMANCE AFFECTS PRODUCTIVITY
Dips in performance need to be addressed in the usual way. In other words, by having a performance conversation. Honest conversations are best, so you can share your concerns and agree what actions you’re both going to take to fix the problem.
If you haven’t been told about the relationship – or what is happening – you are allowed to ask if you have your suspicions. But you shouldn’t accuse your employee of having a relationship with another member of staff.
WHAT NOT TO DO
To avoid upset, complaints being made against you, or even being sued, DON’T:
- View personal relationships at work as an issue in themselves. Most of the time, they won’t affect your business.
- Lose your head and make rash, emotional decisions. Like sacking employees to get rid of the problem. It won’t work. The problem is more likely to come back and bite you in the bum!
- Act unfairly. For example, treating the woman in the relationship differently to the man.
- Let bad behaviour go unchecked. You’re the boss, so take-action to stamp out wrong-doing and take a zero-tolerance approach to bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
- Be policy-less. They exist to protect you and your staff.
Here's a helpful list of my most popular resources...
- Take the Leadership Quiz to uncover your natural leadership style.
- Watch my free leadership masterclass to learn how to build a high performing team.
- Grab my free HR Guide to help you avoid costly legal mistakes.
- Access HR Templates here. Use code BLOG10 at the checkout to get 10% off your first order.
- Book a free consultation with Mandy here, to learn more about us working together.