With Valentine's Day fast approaching love may well be in the air.

Some statistics from People Management released by the CIPD suggests that 90% of employees have been sexually attracted to a colleague at work, 54% of people surveyed had taken it further and had sex with a colleague and 49% had “got jiggy with it” at work (you may want to give your desk a good clean based on these statistics!). True romance or a one night stand, relationships in the office can pose issues for HR advisers…

Office Relationships and Valentine’s Day

Putting aside the rather high statistic that 90% of people have been sexually attracted to a colleague at work (not in our office I can assure you – no offence guys, I am sure the feeling is mutual), many employers have shied away from having a relationship at work policy. This is perhaps understandable given that employees spend the majority of their lives at work and it is therefore likely that at some point they may have a relationship with a colleague.

Relationships between 2 consenting adults are not a problem. However, when relationship issues encroach into the workplace, then they do need to be tackled. Whether it is catching such individuals ‘in flagrante’ in the office or dealing with the fallout of a failed liaison, HR professionals need to be ready to manage the situation. Should this happen, a gentle word that any issues should stay in their personal lives will usually be sufficient to get them back on track. However, if it doesn’t, or the issue is more serious, then disciplinary action may need to result. This could be because of the conduct of the individuals concerned or because the individual’s performance has been affected or their behaviour is causing problems with others due to the stony silences.

However, ‘doing the deed’ in the office may not necessarily amount to gross misconduct a recent EAT case has concluded in GM Packaging v Haslem, it will depend on the circumstances. In that case one of the individuals concerned admitted engaging in ‘sexual relations’ of the Bill Clinton kind in the office out of hours. Being a small employer the owner instructed HR Consultants called “Right Hand HR Ltd” (yes, honestly) to investigate and carry out the disciplinary procedure before making a recommendation of dismissal which he followed. A Tribunal claim was brought, the Tribunal concluded it did not amount to gross misconduct but the EAT later disagreed on the basis that a dictaphone had been on and had recorded the incident, including the employees making derogatory comments about the employer. The two issues together were seen to be capable of amounting to gross misconduct. Unfortunately for the employee concerned, his application for a restricted reporting order on the basis his young family would be put to distress if the details of the case emerged, was dismissed so the whole sordid details are now available to view on the EAT website. A sobering thought for anyone considering indulging in extra curricular activities.

It’s always nice to receive flowers at work… not so when the colleague who has sent them has been hounding you for a date and won’t take the hint, or they are from your married (unattractive) boss. If you do not already have one, make sure that you introduce an equal opportunities policy that covers sexual harassment. Train employees on what is and is not acceptable conduct. Operate a grievance procedure and deal with any complaints seriously. Nip any unwanted conduct in the bud and encourage the employee to have the confidence to stand up to the perpetrator. If the conduct continues, you can then take action accordingly.

A further statistic revealed by People Management is that of those who had had a relationship with a colleague, almost a fifth of them were already in an existing relationship. Affairs in the workplace can be a cause for concern for a variety of reasons. Firstly, there is the issue of “pillow talk” where confidential information is revealed. Provisions in contracts that state that confidential information should not be used or disclosed should relate not only to the situation after the employee has left the employment but also whilst they remain employed to prevent against such issues arising.

Secondly, the fallout and aftermath can impact on the workplace. I am reminded of the affair between a boss and his secretary which became an issue for the company when her husband found out and picketed outside the company’s offices that the company should not be trusted as it was full of cheating ba#tards, before throwing a bucket of excrement over the man when he finally ventured out of his office to try and resolve the situation. The protest was carried out in the street and the company therefore had little remedy, were unable to move him on from a public place yet the damage to their business was substantial. Would you want to run the gauntlet past a picket board maniac carrying a bucket of faeces? Whilst no doubt an outstanding individual in his field, the boss’s reputation was in the gutter, along with the contents of the bucket.

Affairs of the heart are often convoluted and sometimes make even the most sensible of people react out of character. Whoever said being an HR professional was dull!

For further information on this article or any other employment law issue, please do not hesitate to contact Angela Gorton on 0113 280 2026 or angela.gorton@lf-dt.com

Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.

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