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Romance in the workplace


Forget online dating apps. The chances are that one in four couples sharing a romantic candle‐lit dinner this St Valentine’s Day will have met at work.

According to recruitment surveys, more than half of us have dated a colleague at some point, with many a romance in the workplace leading to long‐term commitment – including marriage and civil partnerships.

There is no law against having an office relationship. Everyone is entitled to a private life as part of their human rights, but uneasy situations can and do arise when employees become more than just colleagues.

In years gone by, staff – more usually women – could be sacked for having a workplace affair. If allowed to keep their job, they might be banished to work on a different site or in another area of the business far away from their partner.

Thankfully today’s sex discrimination laws mean men and women must be treated the same. Going out with someone at work won’t result in dismissal if staff abide by employee policies or codes of conduct which govern their workplace behaviour.

Employees could find themselves in legal hot water, though, if they indulge in pillow talk. Passing on confidential information meant for the boardroom not the bedroom, can potentially, in employment law terms, constitute gross misconduct.

If a couple are of similar employment status, then as long as they are discrete and don’t let their romantic feelings distract them from their jobs, then their relationship shouldn’t be a problem.

Where issues are more likely to occur is when one half of the couple holds a more senior role to their partner – leaving the door wide open to accusations from co‐workers of favouritism and unfairness.

If there is a seniority imbalance, HR should be told about it as soon as possible.

Line managers, should not, for example, be conducting pay and performance reviews or work appraisals for the person they’re intimately involved with. As soon as an employer becomes aware of a workplace liaison, steps should be taken to reorganise roles and duties so there are no conflicts of interest.

All the world loves a lover, as the old expression goes, but that’s simply not true – especially at work.

While many couples who work together seek to keep their private and working lives separate, some people can’t help flaunting their new‐found happiness in public displays of affection.

Canoodling in the corridors is off‐putting for everyone exposed to it, and behaviour deemed to be explicit could be in breach of the company’s code of conduct, resulting in disciplinary action.

And, of course not all workplace affairs end in happy‐ever‐after; when a relationship between two co‐workers turns sour, it can be awkward for all concerned.

If practicable, employers should implement a reshuffle, with the ex‐lovers’ consent, so they don’t work together too closely.

Affairs of the heart can be sensitive, but a good employer will use common sense.

You can’t stop people falling for each other and a heavy‐handed approach to workplace liaisons is inadvisable.

By encouraging staff to be open and honest with you about their relationship, you will make managing romance in the workplace easier; quelling gossip and ensuring professionalism and fairness.

For advice and guidance on managing employee romances in your workplace, please contact us on 01455 444222.

Angela Clay

A qualified employment law solicitor and our managing director, Angela has unparalleled legal expertise and decades of experience and knowledge to draw from. She’s a passionate speaker and writer that loves to keep employers updated with upcoming changes to legislation, and is a regular guest speaker on BBC Leicester Radio.