You can’t have missed the
headlines this week about Strictly Come Dancing stars Seann Walsh and
Katya Jones sharing a passionate kiss on a night out.
behind the headlines are some important issues for employers to
consider about just what constitutes appropriate behaviour among their
workforce. Julia Fitzsimmons, Partner with the employment team at FBC Manby Bowdler, explains more.
A kiss, the song says, is just a kiss.
But as Strictly stars Seann Walsh and Katya Jones have shown this
week, life has a habit of being a little more complicated than that.
Comedian Walsh was already in a relationship and professional dancer
Jones married when they shared their intimate moment in a London pub.
Their embrace made the front pages around the world and placed their
futures on the hit show in some doubt.
Celebrity gossip aside, there are some important lessons for all employers here around the issues of office relationships.
The most important one is to be prepared. Office affairs are a fact
of life and no amount of wishful thinking will prevent them happening.
But if you have policies in place you can at least deal with them when
the time comes.
So make sure that your company policy on relationships between
colleagues is stated in the staff handbook, so that if an affair becomes
problematic you have some clear guidance over how to deal with it.
Many US companies – and some in our own public sector – now write
fraternisation clauses in to their employee contracts to deal with some
of these issues. They might, for example, allow relationships which do
not have a negative impact on the workplace but forbid a relationship
between a manager and someone within their chain of command.
There is clearly a risk that any relationship between a manager and a
junior could lead to sexual harassment allegations, claims of
favouritism and abuse of authority. And it’s important to remember that
as an employer you have a duty of care to all your staff for any
That means you have a duty to intervene if one party in the
relationship can be considered vulnerable – either through external
issues such as a mental health condition or through their position as a
It is now becoming more common for staff to have to declare family
and close personal relationships and for businesses then to decide what
safeguards to put in place.
That might mean splitting the couple up within the company – but
proceed here with caution. Taking the easy option to automatically move
the more junior member of staff could result in a costly discrimination
claim against the business.