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Romantic relationships in the workplace or office romances can be one of the trickiest situations to handle in a business. Some surveys suggest most people have participated in romantic relationships in the workplace at some point, so it is certainly a common phenomenon. On the other hand, these relationships can pose issues for your business in terms of conflicts of interest, perceived conflicts of interest, and sometimes issues for the office environment. 

This article sets out a few tips for managing romantic relationships in the workplace, including the need for:

Set Policies and Expectations 

A good tip for managing workplace relationships is to set expectations around behaviours rather than specific relationships. You should clearly outline and communicate behaviour expectations to employees in some form or another. The nature of the industry and business will affect what is acceptable and what is not. Guidelines can help your business navigate workplace romances when they arise and pose issues.

It is worth noting that office relationships do not necessarily represent a problem. The key question to consider is whether the relationship has a negative effect on the business somehow. An employee may be given opportunities or benefits due to a workplace relationship they may not otherwise receive. This can be an issue even if it is not intentional, and is only being perceived by colleagues. This can cause resentment and threaten office harmony. These perceived or actual conflicts of interest should be addressed by a clear policy. This policy should outline what employees in that situation must do. For example, they might need to declare the relationship to the business or human resources team.

Having policies and expectations in place is essential when enforcing positive practices. It can be a nightmare to develop these guidelines in response to a particular workplace romance. The creation of new rules may make the relevant employees feel unfairly targeted.

Encouraging Disclosure of Employee Relationships Where There is a Conflict of Interest

Employees should not always need to disclose their relationships if they are minor and do not impact business. However, this changes if the relationship can cause issues somehow. The most likely way this occurs is through an actual or potential conflict of interest. In these circumstances, employees should make their relationship known to you or a human resources team member. 

There are many benefits of having a proactive and positive disclosure regime. The transparency alone can fix some of the issues around perceptions of a conflict of interest. It can also provide the business with an opportunity to resolve issues that do arise. For instance, the business can change reporting lines. This would mean an employee would not report to someone they are in a relationship with. 

To create a culture of proactive disclosure, have expectations and policies set in writing early. This transparency can stop further issues from developing if employees maintain a workplace relationship in secrecy.

Acting in Good Faith 

While workplace romances can be a taboo and challenging topic, you must act in good faith when you are made aware of a relationship in your office. It is always a mistake to jump to conclusions or punish the employees involved through a disciplinary process, especially before you have ascertained the facts and understood each side of the story. 

The best way to manage challenges like actual and perceived conflicts is to apply general rules and principles to the situation, such as those set out in the policy. These also help fulfil your good faith obligations as you are not unfairly targeting a new workplace relationship with bespoke rules.

Key Takeaways

Workplace relationships are a fact of life for many businesses and offices. While they are not necessarily problematic or harmful for a business, they can sometimes pose issues surrounding actual and perceived conflicts of interest. Clear expectations and policies can help the business navigate issues around conflict of interest. A disclosure regime where there is a conflict or perceived conflict is an excellent example of this. No matter the situation or your personal feelings about the relationship, you must act in good faith towards the employees involved and act fairly without jumping to any conclusions. 

If you would like more information or advice on managing workplace relationships and romances, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are workplace relationships?

Workplace relationships are when employees in the office are romantically involved. Sometimes this does not need to be notified to other people in the office or the business. But sometimes, it is essential to do so, particularly when one employee manages the other directly and the relationship can affect the business or team dynamic.

Can employees be penalised for workplace relationships?

Employers should be very wary of penalising or disciplining employees for workplace relationships unless there is clear evidence that they have actually done something detrimental to the business, such as unfairly provide opportunities to each other without disclosing their relationship.

What is a perceived conflict of interest?

A situation in which other employees may perceive there to be a conflict of interest for an employee, whether or not there actually is one. For instance, a manager in a workplace romance may be perceived to provide favourable treatment to an employee they are in a relationship with, whether or not they are actually doing so. Perceived conflicts are serious issues for businesses to manage. 

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