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.
But 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 work-related behaviour.
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 junior employee.
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.