Workplace Relationships

First published on Friday, May 05, 2023

Last updated on Friday, May 05, 2023

Workplace relationships are often not encouraged. However, many people meet their partners at work. It's not uncommon for co-workers to develop romantic feelings for one another since they spend a lot of time together daily.

However, relationships in the workplace can sometimes interfere with work and have other negative effects. As an employer, it’s important you address this and do everything you can to make sure they don’t negatively impact your business’s interests.

In this guide, we'll discuss what workplace relationships are, how to manage them in your workplace, and if they're allowed.

What are workplace relationships?

Workplace relationships are the connections employees form with one another. These connections may involve brief interactions or continuous engagement between staff or employers and employees.

There are many kinds of workplace relationships, such as friendships, mentors/mentees, and team member relationships. But there are also romantic workplace relationships.

Are workplace relationships illegal?

There are no specific laws against workplace relationships in Canada, so they are not illegal.

But there are risks associated with such relationships, such as harassment, ethical breaches, and poor judgement. So, employers are encouraged to have guidelines in place for conducting consensual workplace relationships.

This may be in the form of a consensual relationship agreement, also called a "love contract." This is an agreement between both parties involved in the workplace relationship. They'll sign and confirm that it's a consensual workplace relationship and neither party is being coerced. It should also detail how they intend to conduct themselves should the relationship end.

Signing a love contract also confirms both employees have read and understand the business' workplace relationships policy and the consequences of breaching its guidelines.

Developing a workplace relationship policy in Canada

Workplace relationships can be problematic, especially when there is a power imbalance. For instance, in cases where one employee is in a senior role or is their direct report. There may be concerns about favoritism, or potential conflicts of interest in the workplace. And employees may fear retaliation if the relationship goes sour.

As an employer, it's your duty to set clear policies on workplace relationships. Having clear cut guidelines on workplace relationships will make sure they don’t negatively impact your team’s morale.

Essential inclusions in a workplace relationship policy

Officially known as interpersonal relationship policies, a workplace relationship policy should define exactly what you expect from employees in a consensual workplace relationship. It should also contain information on who employees must report their relationship to, and when it must be reported. It may also prohibit relationships between superiors and staff who report to them directly.

Finally, it should detail how the business will manage real or perceived conflicts of interest. These are situations where personal loyalties or feelings interfere with workplace obligations and impact an employees' ability to make impartial decisions. Examples of conflicts of interest include an employee or client getting special treatment. This can be caused by romantic relationships in the workplace.

These are a few essential elements a workplace relationship policy should cover.

Can you tailor rules for workplace relationships to suit your business? There are no specific rules to follow when crafting your workplace relationship policy in Canada. You can tailor your workplace relationship policy to suit your business's specific needs. Technically, you can even ban romantic workplace relationships.

This can happen if you find that your employees are flouting the rules you've set, or you are unable to manage them effectively. But this isn't the best idea as it doesn't stop employees from getting into relationships. It only discourages them from disclosing it.

Managing difficult conversations on workplace relationships

Employers should aim to create a safe and supportive space when having conversations with employees involved in romantic workplace relationships. This will help employees feel comfortable sharing their concerns and perspectives. It's also important for you to approach such conversations with sensitivity and respect, avoiding judgment or blame.

During the meeting, clearly communicate any concerns about the relationship. This may include how it’s affecting their work performance or creating conflicts of interest. You should also provide specific expectations and guidelines going forward. These can include boundaries around public displays of affection or rules for workplace relationship disclosure to others in the workplace.

Can you terminate an employee over a workplace relationship?

It’s not illegal for your employees to have a romantic relationship in the workplace. So, you can't fire them for being in a relationship alone. But you can fire an employee for going against the guidelines outlined in your policy on workplace relationships.

You may also have grounds to terminate an employee if there is proof of a conflict of interest. Employees can file a claim if they prove you fired them without cause. If the courts rule in their favor, they can get a full severance package of up to 24 months of pay.

Therefore, when managing workplace relationships, you must do so with utmost care. It’s also advisable to get help from employment relations experts where possible.

Can workplace relationships lead to harassment claims?

For employees to do their best work, you must cultivate a harassment-free environment. It's important to ensure every workplace relationship is consensual, especially when it's between a manager and their subordinate.

This can help reduce the likelihood of an employee filing a harassment claim when the relationship ends. Making sure that employees read and understand your policies on workplace relationships can lessen the possibility of a harassment claim. You should also encourage employees to disclose their relationship to HR.

It's possible for an employee to file a harassment claim even if they previously said that a workplace relationship was consensual. This can happen if they later claim that they were harassed and coerced into the relationship.

An employee may also file a claim saying they were targeted and treated unjustly for rejecting flirtations from a superior. Other employees can also file harassment claims if they're uncomfortable with public displays of affection between staff involved in romantic relationships in the workplace.

Workplace relationships and ethics

Many businesses don’t have an explicit policy on dating in the workplace, especially small businesses. This is where ethics and ethical intent in workplace relationships come in. The employees aren’t obligated to report their relationship to the employer, but it would be ethical to do so.

Reporting the relationship to the employer will avoid tensions in the workplace. This will make sure other employees are not affected. It’ll also make sure they don’t mistakenly perceive conflicts of interest in the workplace where there is none.

Managing workplace relationships with BrightHR

Punishing employees for engaging in workplace relationships could have negative impacts on your business. You'll lose valuable talent and may have to pay thousands in compensation claims or severance pay.

Employers should be lenient and find ways to accommodate employees involved in romantic relationships to avoid disrupting the business. Making sure employees understand the contents of your policy on workplace relationships helps reduce your liability if the relationship turns sour.

When employees follow the guidelines detailed in the business's policies, workplace relationships will not present a challenge to employers.

If you need further help managing workplace relationships, speak with our employment relations specialists. Our BrightAdvice lines are available Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. Contact us on 1 888 220 4924 or book a demotoday.

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