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Office Romances part 1, should they be allowed?

There has been a lot of media coverage lately about relationships in the workplace especially at a senior level.

Firstly we saw an affair unfold between Seven West media director Tim Worner and his EA Amber Harrison.  Mr Worner told the media “None of us condone that sort of activity but it was consensual.  Sadly some of those relationships that start out with a lot of passion don’t always work out”.

However, it hasn’t stopped there, Mr Worner is seeking a gag order against Ms Harrison as she has breached the deed of agreement she signed.  In exchange for her silence, Seven West media paid Ms Harrison a total $427,000!

More recently, over the past couple of weeks we have seen more inappropriate relationships unfold in the AFL.  AFL Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan accepted resignations from both Simon Lethlean and Richard Simkiss last week after their inappropriate relationships were made public in the media.

A new Respect and Responsibility policy for women in Australian football was under AFL consideration before Mr Lethlean and Mr Simkiss resigned last week over affairs with junior staff.

It leaves us asking the question…..Is it the employers responsibility to ensure inappropriate workplace relationships do not happen?  If they are consensual can the employer do anything?

According to the Fair Work commission, employers need to seriously consider disclosure policies for workplace romances.

While office romances are not uncommon, the parties involved need to take reasonable measures to ensure their work or the business is not poorly affected.  In situations where a manager forms a relationship with a subordinate, especially where the manager directly supervises the subordinate, the Fair Work Commission is of the view that such relationships have the potential to create conflicts of interest.

It would be impossible to enforce a “No relationships policy” in the workplace however, it would be wise to have a policy in place with some restrictions included.

You may want to include a “Conflict of interest policy” that would include managers and subordinates.  If a relationship was to form one of the parties would need to move to another department/role.

A “Disclosure policy” that enforces any employees who are involved in a relationship disclose this to HR so that steps and measures can be taken to ensure there are no conflicts of interest.

Also, make sure all staff are aware and clear on the polices with regular updates!

Employers need to ensure that their Disclosure and Conflict of Interest policies state that disciplinary action, including termination, may be taken where an employee fails to openly and satisfactorily disclose an office relationship, particularly where the relationship has the potential to create conflicts of interest or reputational damage to the employer.

If you need help creating a Workplace relationships policy give HR Gurus a call on 1300 959 560 and one of our highly trained staff can help.

Written by resident HR Guru Natalie Bol

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