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WHISPERS and giggles at the water cooler – furtive glances across the meeting table while everyone else is looking at the flipchart. Yes, the office romance is as much a fixture of our working lives as the fire drill.
A survey of 200 businesses by a dating website last year showed that a staggering 75% had considered a workplace fling, while more than half had actually gone ahead and done it.
Given that we spend eight hours a day, five days a week with our work colleagues, it is hardly surprising that basic instincts will kick in on a regular basis.
However, while such liaisons can be fun, they can also end in tears and have implications for both the individuals concerned, their colleagues and their employer.
And with Valentines’ Day now upon us again, the issue may well come to the fore in many workplaces.
Heather Grant, an employment lawyer with Liverpool law firm, Maxwell Hodge, says the office romance can be a “thorny issue” for all concerned.
“It is not unknown for firms to face charges of harassment and discrimination as a result of an office love affair,” she said.
“Issues tend to arise more when a relationship breaks down but even at the start of a relationship, particularly when it’s between a manager and their subordinate.
“It can lead to accusations of favouritism from other employees.
“The biggest downside, though, is when a relationship does fail and then employers can find themselves left with the fall-out, including allegations of sexual harassment and, in extreme cases, acts of physical violence.
“In the UK, employers can be held liable for the misconduct of their employees – unless they show they have attempted to prevent such behaviour – so it’s vital to have a written policy in place addressing harassment.
“This policy should send a strong message that any kind of harassment – be it sexual or not – will not be tolerated and that employees are expected to act professionally at all times even if they are in a romantic relationship.
“In brief, a policy should set out whether you expect to be told about an office romance or just one between a manager and subordinate.
“Make it clear how any concerns about harassment can be reported, and what steps your business will take when they are faced with such an allegation.
“By drawing up a robust policy and getting legal advice when issues arise, firms can cover themselves, should an employee’s personal life cross the office door.”
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