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Posted by / 17-Sep-2019 10:15

When does a relationship at work need to be declared? We drum it into all our trainees that they represent a well-known professional accountancy firm both at work and in their downtime; particularly so if they’re in a social situation and have had a few drinks,” says Sarah Churchman, head of diversity and inclusion and employee wellbeing at the firm.

How does an employer strike the right balance between respecting lovebirds’ privacy and protecting its business interests? Churchman dislikes the whole notion of US-style love contracts or “consensual relationship agreements”, because they intrude on private lives and, under UK law, offer scant protection against potential sexual harassment claims if an affair turns sour.

“If it is left up to a third party to inform management of the relationship, this not only looks bad for the couple concerned, but it also makes management think there are more potential problems than perhaps there are,” she says.

And less than one in five actually forbid them outright.“Yet while employers dislike in-house affairs because they tend to get messy, the desire to manage personal relationships for the good of the business is incredibly complex, both legally and ethically.” Although organisations may opt for different strategies for dealing with workplace flings – some more draconian than others – no single approach is free from the risk either of a future sex discrimination or harassment claim, or possibly a privacy challenge under human rights legislation, she believes.Despite the obvious complications of kiss-and-tell policies – for example, when exactly should a relationship be reported?In truth, if they don’t tell us, somebody else in the department will, not because they are necessarily behaving in an inappropriate manner, but simply because they may fear a problem with favouritism.” In May, Ipswich Borough Council made headlines when it introduced a new code of conduct making it obligatory to report to line managers short-term sexual flings as well as long-term relationships, but to Helen Farr, a partner in the employment group at city law practice Fox Williams, concern over the impact of even transitory love affairs between colleagues is not restricted to town halls.“A whole range of organisations are becoming very worried about office romances and if they could find a way of doing so, some would like to impose a blanket ban on the grounds that they are wholly inappropriate in a business environment,” says Farr.

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Two exclusive surveys show that HR execs aren't doing what it takes to ensure that boss/subordinate dating doesn't result in costly, unnecessary sexual harassment lawsuits.