Is it OK to start a romantic relationship with a work colleague? 

Is it OK to start a romantic relationship with a work colleague? 

Yes, if it’s consensual and not banned under your workplace rules. Time to check?

I had to chuckle when reading Rod Liddle’s piece in The Sunday Times last weekend on relationships at work and whether this might have unintended consequences for humanity. After all, before Swipe Right it used to be the case that many of us met our significant others at work and hopefully still do. (I have met a woman while walking my dog who actually said out loud that work went to pot when they allowed women to do it alongside men!).

I met my husband in a crowded work canteen and was hit by the love bolt when asking him if I could share his table. We just celebrated our 22nd anniversary. If HR had tried to stop me I would for sure have told them where to put their policy!

I can’t help thinking that this is an area in which fear of inappropriate conduct and paranoia about sexual harassment in the workplace might have too much influence. After all, is it not likely that you might meet a like-minded person with similar values and aspirations if you are working for the same company? It saddens me to think that such relationships may be doomed from the start because most normal human beings do know the difference between unwanted conduct/sexual harassment and flirting with someone who is responding to your affections/overture. Is it really necessary to ban all engagements of this kind altogether in the workplace? Different employers have different attitudes. 

At various points and when working for various companies over the years, I have seen all sorts of policies around this. The US owned entities have tended to be more draconian than most. Something to do with their puritanical roots? In some workplaces one of the parties in a couple must resign if they couple up. Who decides which of the couple has to quit? I would not want to be in that discussion! In others they are allowed to be a couple but not if they are in a manager-report working relationship or if they work in an area where risk of collusion in say financial misconduct might be tempting. It’s still not an easy task for HR to navigate without legal difficulties. Is a relationship with a work colleague a substantial reason for terminating a contract of employment? I can’t recall seeing a case on this. If anyone knows of one please do let me know. 

The news that ITV has introduced a policy requiring HR to be notified if a new relationship begins in the workplace is ‘interesting’. At what point does a brief flirtation or fling become a relationship? Who does the revealing? Does it have to be both parties? Does the policy define what the criteria are for the big reveal? Isn’t it a bit embarrassing, nay humiliating to share with your employer what you do under the covers after hours? Is this all a bit silly? A step too far? Is it even practicable? 

We live in a time where we are actively encouraged to bring our “true selves” to work. To open up about pretty much everything from menopause to mental health, domestic violence, struggles at home with money, family, etc. Is nothing sacred and to remain in the domain of private life and respect for the basic human right that is the right to a private life? Doing this job I see all the time instances where the very revealing of an issue then leads to the working relationship breaking down where employers do not want to support ailing employees who have issues. I really think keeping romance out of the workplace is the only solution here. By all means hook up but keep the fraternising for after hours and below the radar.

This blog was written by Karen Jackson, Partner & MD of didlaw.