5 lawful ways to manage relationships in the office

By Brihony Tulloch on March 12th, 2018
  1. Bullying, Harassment & Discrimination
  2. Sexual harassment in the workplace


We all know of employees who have formed friendships or even romantic relationships with other employees in the workplace. While there is nothing unlawful about this behaviour, if a relationship breaks down and you don’t manage it correctly, it can lead to legal problems such as sexual harassment or bullying claims, and even workers’ compensation claims.

As an employer, it’s vital for you to have a process in place to manage employee relationships. So, if a relationship turns sour and results in claims of sexual harassment or workplace bullying, you will also be able to take disciplinary action just as you would for these behaviours if there was no relationship involved.

What steps can I take?

1. Implement a ‘chaste workplace’

You may choose to ban all personal relationships in the workplace. But consider whether this is feasible. It is unlikely that courts or industrial tribunals will uphold this policy, given it is inconsistent with social norms. You should also be aware this approach is unlawful in Victoria and Tasmania.

2. Quarantine the Relationship

You may oblige all employees to disclose the relationship and submit to safeguards to avoid a conflict of interest or breach of confidence.

3. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

You can take a leaf out of the US army’s book and ignore the possibility of workplace relationships and only act when it harms the business.

4. Kill the Romance

You can implement measures to minimise prospects of workers forming relationships with each other, e.g. bans on taxi-sharing after hours and banning alcohol at social functions.

5. Give and Demand Respect

You can enshrine values and build a culture that will encourage and support employees to do the right thing in the way they relate to each other, professional or personal, and the way they serve their organisation.

While you do not want to intrude into the private lives of your employees, it is important to provide guidance on the types of behaviour that are considered inappropriate and what is perceived as a conflict of interest.

Was this information helpful? Then be sure to read our Relationships in the Workplace chapter in the Employment Law Practical Handbook. It’s full of valuable, easy to understand information of employment law from experts at Holding Redlich. Order your copy today!


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