All you need is love… and legal advice
Love is a battlefield, goes the song, and when hearts are hurt at work it's a potential legal minefield, too.
Four in five workers aged 18 to 40 admitted they'd had a work relationship more personal than professional, in a Griffith University study of 300 people by psychologist Geoff Carter.
There are no absolute guidelines for workplaces, but most authorities advise against hierarchical relationships between bosses and subordinates, and even suggest that peer-to-peer relationships can be fraught with difficulties and dangers.
We sought both sides of the story from a legal partner and relationships counsellor.
Baker & McKenzie law firm partner Bryony Binns urges workplaces to manage the risks, not the relationships, in her co-authored paper, “Sorry St. Valentine, We Don't Do Romance Here.”
The risks include adverse action claims under the Fair Work Act 2009, and the compromise of company data and practices, particularly around audit and security, Binns says.
Have clear, written policies about the consequences of behaviours such as harassment and improper social media use, and ensure non-fraternising policy isn't gender specific, she says.
The policies should apply to the office, work parties and conference travel, but also bear in mind "the workplace doesn't just begin and end at your physical place of work," Binns says. Thanks to social media and other technology, business workplaces now "extend beyond the realms of what they used to.”
Where Cupid's arrow strikes regardless, Relationships Australia spokeswoman Sue Yorston also urges a company policy that encourages employees to act responsibly.
Colleagues should enter a personal relationship "with their eyes open" as, should it fail, "there's nothing worse than having to turn up every day to see the person you're no longer with."
Employees also need to "put their cards on the table" with their company and honestly relay the relationship, as well as honour contractual arrangements, Yorston says, even if this means transferring out of a job.
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