Set up employment policies for your business

Managing personal relationships at work

Many personal relationships begin with people meeting at work, and many of these lead to long-term partnerships. This should not be viewed as a problem in itself, but it's important to recognise that relationships at work can cause a number of issues for both employer and workforce.

Why have a relationships policy?

Any employment policy about relationships at work is intended to ensure that staff don't commit - and are not open to allegations of acts of:

  • inappropriate behaviour, including harassment
  • favouritism
  • abuse of authority
  • conflict of interest

It is also intended to ensure that all employees feel confident of fair and consistent treatment without the fear that a relationship will influence their or other employees' treatment or wider working relationships.

Depending on the size of your business, you may also want to extend the policy to cover other types of relationship, such as those between relatives or family members.

Some companies go so far as to specify in employment contracts that employees can't form an intimate relationship with someone they work with, although this is probably unnecessary in most workplaces.

What types of relationships would a policy cover?

For the purposes of creating a policy, 'intimate relationships' or 'close personal or family relationships' apply to those relationships between people in the same team or department, or between a line manager and one of their team that could potentially be problematic. It does not refer to straightforward friendship between colleagues.

Issues that could arise include the following:

  • If one of a couple is the other's manager, what happens if disciplinary action has to be taken against the employee? Who will do the employee's appraisals or performance reviews?
  • Does either of the couple have any financial responsibilities, such as authorising expense claims or overtime payments, or deciding pay rates or increases?
  • What happens when the employee applies for a post for which the manager would be conducting the interviews? Or when someone related to an existing employee applies for a job? (Conflicts of interest should, where possible, be avoided. This would minimise tribunal risks.)

General policy on relationships at work: what might it cover?

If you choose to have a policy about personal relationships at work, it should clarify the behaviour you expect from employees, eg that the relationship shouldn't affect their work, and that there should be no favouritism or preferential treatment, particularly where one employee is more senior than the other.

You may wish to include guidance on what to do if an employee involved in recruitment is aware that a partner, relative or even a close friend has applied for a job. You could state that they should declare this at the earliest opportunity.

Depending on the position and the employee's own role, you should consider:

  • any potential conflict of interest
  • how an appointment might affect the working environment
  • any resulting risks that the relationship might cause
  • what steps could be taken to address these matters

Remember that it can be a positive thing to have friends and family working together, as well as considering the potential risks.