Managing personal relationships in the workplace

An online study has found that 15% of people meet their partner at work. This was certainly the case for McDonald’s chief executive, Steve Easterbrook. In November 2019 however the board of McDonald’s view was that the relationship, although consensual, demonstrated poor judgement from the CEO and was not in accordance with the company’s workplace policies. With the position of McDonald’s in mind, it is unsurprising that many employers now choose to implement a policy specifically addressing relationships at work. The policies often allow relationships with the stipulation that there is no negative impact on the conduct of either employee in the workplace. These policies often permit the employer to redeploy or restructure the line management of any employee who may be subject to a conflict of interest as a result.

From an employment law perspective, there are five potentially fair reasons for dismissal under the Employment Rights Act 1996: conduct, capability, redundancy, statutory ban or some other substantial reason (SOSR). However, employers should carefully consider if having a workplace relationship could fall within the scope of one of the five based on the merits of the case, the most obvious being conduct or SOSR.

Ultimately, stopping relationships is not likely to be practical for employers and arguably is too restrictive – impacting the employee’s ability to exercise their right to a private life. Employers can safeguard themselves with sound equality and diversity training, an employee code of conduct and workplace policies which crate a requirement to declare workplace relationships.

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