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Relationships in the workplace – are they an employer’s business?

5 October 2018

Relationships in the workplace are not uncommon, and indeed some high-profile ones have certainly been the subject of media and public scrutiny in recent times.

Although employers cannot stop their employees from forming romantic relationships, they need to manage risks arising from personal relationships in the workplace, by keeping the following issues in mind:

1. An unwanted request to go out on a date can amount to sexual harassment.
2. Romantic relationships in the workplace have the potential to create actual, potential or apparent conflicts of interest, particularly if one of the employees involved is the other employee’s manager, or is involved in the other employee’s salary, bonus, allocation of work, or promotional decisions.
3. Employers have a reasonable expectation that employees will be honest and disclose any potential conflicts of interest, so that they can be appropriately managed*. This expectation can be bolstered by obligations detailed in an employee’s contract of employment, in codes of conduct and company policy, and reinforced via training.
4. Romantic relationships in the workplace must not lead to incidents of sexual harassment.
5. Employers must ensure that sexual conduct between employees, even if it is consensual, does not create an unpleasant and sexualised workplace for others.
6. Being well acquainted with someone in the workplace does not excuse inappropriate or unsafe conduct.
7. Personal relationships can sour, and impact the workplace. Once an employer is on notice of concerns of bullying or harassment, it must not ignore those concerns.
*Milhalopoulos v Westpac Banking Corporation [2015] FWC 2087

Do you need help managing a workplace relationship? If so, don’t hesitate to contact Pamela Flynn (Director) for advice.

The content of this article is general in nature and is not intended to and should not be relied on as a substitute for legal advice which is specific to your circumstances.

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