With UK workers spending more time in the office than workers in other European countries, it is inevitable that some of the close working relationships built up between employees may develop into something more. According to a recent report, more than half of employers surveyed turn a blind eye to office romances. However, these relationships can be a potential minefield for employers who can be left facing serious problems when the relationship turns sour.
Whilst a large percentage of employees admit to having had a relationship of some sort with a colleague, a surprisingly small number of employers have implemented any sort of policy to deal with the situation, whether it be a contractual clause or a US style 'love contract'.
Consensual relationship agreements, or "love contracts" as they are often called, are voluntary contracts commonly used in the United States, in which employees in a workplace relationship confirm that their relationship is consensual and in which the company’s harassment policy is restated. They are a form of protection that American employers are adopting in order to limit the risk of sexual harassment claims.
UK employers may wish to consider how they protect themselves from such sexual harassment claims. A blanket ban on workplace relationships is inadvisable - apart from possibly breaching Human Rights legislation, it is clearly not conducive to a healthy office environment. A US style love contract might well be ineffective in the UK due to wide ranging employee protections in current legislation. A more advisable approach would be for employers to ensure they have clear policies and procedures on Sexual Harassment in place.
Employers should provide training and impose a duty on management to ensure that these policies are applied correctly and stress to employees the requirement to adhere to the policies and to treat all colleagues with respect.
On the whole, it is far better to create an atmosphere in which employees feel comfortable to make their relationship known to their employers than an environment where relationships are conducted in secret for fear of the reaction of their employer. Employers' awareness of the situation will also allow them to gauge the impact on their business and take the appropriate steps to prevent claims arising.