It is estimated that around one third of all couples in the UK met at work. The figures seem high but given that we spend so much of our typical week at work it is perhaps more surprising that the figure is not higher. If you are in a relationship with a colleague, or thinking about having one, it can be a very tricky area with plenty of potential for negative consequences. It is worth reflecting on these before jumping into a situation that you later regret.
Factors to consider
Firstly, employers really do not like office relationships – 82 percent of them according to Peninsula, an employment law firm. In addition, one-third of companies have gone further and have banned office relationships outright, according to a 2012 survey of HR professionals at 200 UK organisations by Personnel Today.
The reason for this opposition is that damaging situations can often arise as a result of romantic liaisons between workmates. Couples who split can produce tense atmospheres in the office – doors slamming, sarky comments, hostility among colleagues. And this is just between employees of equal standing. When the situation involves senior and junior colleagues it can become much worse.
It is to deal with these instances preemptively that many companies introduce a ‘no relationship’ rule prohibiting relationships between employees. However, even where a ban is not in place, companies will almost certainly act if the relationship is adversely affecting job performance or the running of the business.
Legally, work relationships that go wrong can produce a number of negative scenarios. If one of the parties later afterwards behaves in a way that is intimidating, hostile or violates a colleague’s dignity in any way, then can be accused of contravening the Equality Act 2010. This applies to the treatment of men as well as women. If a subordinate suffers from ill treatment at the hands of a more senior colleague then they may also have grounds for constructive dismissal.
If a manager feels that a relationship between two employees is causing issues and had led to inappropriate behaviour in the office, then they may consider disciplinary action for one or both of the individuals. Inappropriate behaviour can often be a subjective judgment so you may not even realise that you are falling short of the conduct expected of you. Examples may include wasting time by emailing each other too often, making puppy dog eyes at each other during meetings or even just making colleagues feel uncomfortable.
In the vast majority of cases other employees will find out about the relationship, either because one of the parties has told a workmate, who has told ‘just one other person’ and so on, until it becomes common knowledge and the subject of salacious chit chat in the tearoom. After all, how hard is it to resist discussing the latest office news? The question to ask yourself is, do you really want to be the gossip topic?
If the relationship has ended the best-case scenario is for the split to be amicable without any hostility between you and the other person. Then you can just put it behind you and get on with your job.
However if the situation is so bad that you cannot work together again then often the only option is for one of you to leave. If you are the more junior employee then in most cases unfortunately this will often be you.