Romance Is In The Air, But Keep It Out Of The Office, Warns Croner

By Andrew Willis
17 Feb 2011

More than two in five UK workers would not approve if their boss introduced a 'love contract', according to a recent survey. London, 11 February 2011. As Valentine's Day approaches, employers need to think twice before forcing employees to disclose any romantic involvements with colleagues. New research highlights that 44% of workers, who aren't self-employed, would disapprove if their boss chose to introduce a 'love contract'.

An online YouGov survey commissioned by Croner, exposes furious feelings among UK workers after news that a district council is planning to introduce an office romance policy. Fenland District Council were planning to bring in a policy under which 'intimate behaviour' during work time would be unacceptable. In one of the proposals, employees entering a close personal relationship would need to reveal this to their manager, in writing. If employees were found in breach of the proposed policy, it would be classed as gross misconduct and would result in disciplinary action. Local Councillors have since unanimously rejected the idea.

When YouGov asked UK workers who aren't self-employed how they would feel if their company introduced a love contract, almost half of the respondents (44%) said that it's unnecessary for their boss to know what they get up to out of work hours. Over one fifth (22%) said they would be disappointed and that it would be bad for staff morale. 23% of respondents were understanding, but only 3% of workers surveyed think it should be necessary for their boss to be made aware of the situation. The Croner research also reveals that 30% of all respondents have had a relationship with a colleague. Amy Paxton, Senior Employment Consultant at Croner, says: "The impact and importance of office relationships are perennial workplace issues and we get calls to our employment helplines looking for guidance on how to deal with issues like these.

"Situations where one partner has line management responsibility for the other, or an influence on the other's promotion prospects, or where the end of a relationship causes difficulties at work, do arise. "But the fact that so many people meet their life partners in the office and continue to work together shows that workplace romances aren't necessarily always a problem. "Employers look at office relationships in different ways. Some ensure that partners don't work in the same department or office or have direct line management responsibility for their partner, while others pay little or no attention to them. "In the case of Fenland District Council, there would have been nothing legally to stop them introducing a love contract.

However, there is a host of questions about how such a policy could be enforced fairly and safely through a disciplinary procedure and whether the potential benefits of introducing it outweigh the probable impact on staff morale. "From a basic human rights point of view, unless an office relationship is having a negative impact on the employee's ability to perform their day-to-day tasks, in accordance with their contract of employment, there would be a strong argument for saying that their relationship has absolutely nothing to do with their employer. "Our experience has shown that, with sensible behaviour from all parties, potential issues arising from workplace romances can usually be managed without having to resort to a special policy. Croner would advise against any organisations taking this route without a sound business reason. Employers also need to ensure that they do not unlawfully discriminate against a person because of one of the protected characteristics such as sex, sexual orientation or because of marital or civil partnership status."

Notes to Editors:

Note on the research

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov plc. The total sample size was 2009 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 4 and 7 February 2011. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

Research findings

Have you ever had a relationship with a fellow employee?

  • Yes, I have: 30%
  • No, I haven't: 64%
  • Prefer not to say: 4%

Which one (if any) of the following best describes how you would feel if your company introduced a 'love contract':

  • Outraged: it is unnecessary for my boss to know what I get up to outside of work hours: 44%
  • Disappointed: it wouldn't do much for staff morale: 22%
  • Understanding: it's okay when things are going right, but when colleagues split up there is a real tension in the workplace: 23%
  • Pleased: it is necessary for my boss to be made aware of this situation: 3%

About the Author

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis is the senior manager of the Litigation and Employment Department and assumes additional responsibility for managing Croner’s office based telephone HR advisory teams, who specialise in employment law, HR and commercial legal advice for small & large organisations across the United Kingdom.





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