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Relationships at work – an employers guide

Relationships at work are not a new phenomenon – many of us either meet our partners at the office, or know someone who has. And they are in good company, with Bill Gates and Barack Obama both meeting their wives at work.

However, last year one-third of employers said that they have prohibited relationships between managers and subordinates, one in six has banned relationships between employees and customers, while one in seven even forbids relationships between employees who are on the same team.

Affairs of the heart are notoriously tricky, and in the litigious climate we now live in, it’s no wonder that employers want to protect themselves from the hefty legal risks that can arise from workplace relationships, including claims of sexual harassment (at the start or end of a relationship, perhaps), discrimination (for example, if an employee is dismissed or moved as a result of the relationship), or victimization.

However, in actual fact, employers cannot ban relationships in the workplace, nor can they force blanket disclosures. This approach is not only unlikely to be workable (there are many reasons for wanting to keep a relationship secret, and at what point should ‘disclosure’ take place), and generate a negative atmosphere (which is never conducive to productivity), but it could also contravene an individual’s right to respect for their private and family life under the Human Rights Act.

Employers are, however, permitted to have workplace relationships policies, providing they are fair and justifiable as a genuine need of the business. Such a policy could go someway in helping to protect employers should things turn sour, but research shows that more than two-thirds of employers do not have such a policy in place.

If you are one of those employers, it’s time to start thinking about getting a workplace relationship policy in place. But what should it cover?

– Firstly, identify the roles in the organisation where disclosure of workplace relationships would be required – such as those that present risks to the business (e.g. the manager/team member type of relationship).

– Reserve your right to move one or both employees in the event of possible conflict of interest or workplace issue that could arise because of the relationship.

– Be clear about general workplace rules, such as no intimate behaviour when in the workplace. It might sound obvious but it’s better to leave no room for misunderstanding.

– Explain the duty to disclose relationships between employees or employees and customers when it poses a risk to the employers business or a conflict of interest for the employee.

– Link it to a grievance policy where an employee who is adversely affected by another employee’s behaviour can make a complaint.

– The penalty for breaching the policy.

If you would like assistance with developing a workplace relationship or grievance policy, disciplinary procedures, or for help with any other HR matter, please contact TurnstoneHR on 01229 615 280 or email us at for a FREE consultation.


“There is evidence to suggest that good HR practice and people management in SMEs are key factors in strong business performance and can lead to increased productivity.”

- CIPD people Skills Project 2017


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