What Are the Consequences of Affairs in the Workplace?

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11 Jul 2018

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An affair at work can refer to any relationship between two of your employees. This includes extramarital affairs in the workplace. It's for this reason that affairs in the workplace can become a sensitive subject to handle: the term itself is problematic.

Affairs in the Workplace: Consequences

You should be prudent when handling a sensitive scenario like an affair in the workplace. Situations like these can blur the line between professional and personal behaviour. Consequences of an affair at work can include:

  • Time wasting.
  • Low employee morale.
  • Disruption to other staff.
  • Sexual harassment or sexual discrimination claims.

Time wasting can happen if the couple isn't even being physically intimate at work. If they're chatting, texting, or dreamily gazing at one another across the office, they're wasting precious work time. In moderation, there's nothing wrong with staff interactions. But you should monitor how much time staff having a workplace affair spend together at work. You don't want their performance to suffer. Or their productivity. Two or more of your staff having a workplace affair can affect your other employees' morale in different ways. Problems can include other staff feeling uncomfortable or jealous. Disruptions. An employee might feel like they're working harder to pick up the slack of the colleague who's having the workplace affair. Sexual harassment or discrimination claims can hurt the finances and reputation of your business. The time that your staff invest in the affair could lead to them not hitting their targets. In addition, they might be spending less time building other relations in the office, too. Sexual harassment claims are common when a couple breaks up. If someone believes they're a victim of sexual harassment or discrimination, they're going to make a claim. So, how do you deal with workplace affairs?

How To Deal With An Affair At Work

Firstly, make sure your staff handbook and employee contracts state your policy on relationships within the workplace. Being too soft with your policy can mean affairs get out of hand. But being too harsh can mean your staff will try to involve the company in their claim. Ultimately, affairs at work happen. The trick isn't to stop one before it happens but to manage it when it does. If your policy sets out the rules clearly, you can fall back on it if things go awry. If a couple is wasting company time, have a meeting with the couple together. Don't moralise or condemn their relationship. Point out in simple terms that their actions are affecting the business. Suggest they reduce the disruptions, and remind them that they could face disciplinary action if they don't comply. In a meeting, don't mention who brought the couple's conduct to your attention. In addition, don't mention any complaints from their colleagues either. If you do either of these, you risk a hostile atmosphere in the office. During the meeting, stress that your concern is not their relationship, but the effects of their conduct on the business and your staff.

Should You Separate the Couple While they're at Work?

Many employers have a policy that stipulates that they retain the right to relocate one employee (in the relationship) to another team or department to avoid any potential issues. This is often the case when one of the employees in the relationship manages the other. In any relationship policy, you might state that if two employees enter into a relationship, at least one of them must tell one nominated person. The nominated person might decide that they need to take action, such as in the above paragraph. It goes without saying that two people in a relationship often treat each other favourably, and therefore you want to avoid situations where one of your staff is responsible for making decisions regarding their partner's annual leave or expenses, among other things.

Caught in the Act

If you or one of your staff discover the couple in a compromising situation at work, then, depending on the situation, you might have the right to proceed with a disciplinary, or even dismiss them due to gross misconduct. However, always practise a fair procedure and follow your policies.

Vulnerability

You have a responsibility to intervene when one individual involved in an affair is somehow vulnerable. This might be due to a mental health condition or if the employee is underage/recently out of school. You also have a responsibility to intervene if a senior member of staff becomes involved with a junior member of staff. These types of relationships might seem innocent, but they could pose problems in your company's hierarchy, and even provoke the discomfort of fellow staff.

Expert Advice

If you need advice on how to deal with affairs in the workplace, or any other HR issue, speak to one of Croner's experts: 0808 145 3383.

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