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Numerous workplace relationships have recently made headline news due to the prominence of the parties and the conduct involved. AFL executives being asked to leave due to romantic encounters with subordinate staff members, politicians suffering from the cold weather loneliness of Canberra, and who can forget the massive public fallout over the CEO of Seven West Media, and his former executive assistant and lover that became a protracted emotion filled litigation where there was no winner.

While employees spend a fair amount of the day together it is only natural to think that more than platonic or professional relationships will form. But has anyone witnessed an argument between a co-working couple, who are no longer so ‘loved up’ play out in the workplace? I have and it’s simultaneously hilarious and shockingly inappropriate and tawdry.

However, the primary concerns are whether such relationships can cause a conflict of interest in the workplace and or if and when things fall apart between a ‘couple’ what are the possible consequences and exposures to the employer? If not handled appropriately such relationships can potentially lead to governance breaches left, right and centre as well as a range of legal exposures.

A conflict of interest refers to a situation that has the potential to undermine the impartiality of a person because of the possibility of a clash between the person’s self-interest and professional interest. A personal relationship at work can be the basis for a conflict and with adverse outcomes for companies.

Some of the consequences that can arise from personal relationships in the workplace turning sour include:

  • • Potential misconduct warranting disciplinary action due to conflict.
  • • Risk of damage to corporate reputation.
  • • Sexual harassment claims and other grievances.
  • • Having no option but to terminate otherwise productive employees.

There’s a policy for that!

We strongly recommend employers implement an appropriately drafted workplace policy that deals with personal relationships. The policy should define potential conflicts of interest as well as any disclosure requirements and consequences of failing to disclose. Further, such a policy should also work in with your ‘Conduct in the Workplace Policy’ which gives an employee a grievance process to follow should they feel it necessary. The aim is to protect the company so that any unacceptable conduct between co-workers will be treated as potential misconduct that may result in disciplinary action.

If you see the need to address this issue at your workplace, feel free to get in touch with our HR Team to discuss.

Charles Watson


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