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Relationships In The Workplace

The recent revelations about Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s affair with one of his staffers has brought the issue of workplace relationships to the forefront of the Australian media’s attention. The government has gone as far as to ban all ministers from having relationships with staff members, and this has many people talking about relationship policies in the workplace.

A Workplace relationship is one of the most difficult issues an HR manager will need to deal with. No matter what your company’s policy, it is vital all employees are aware of the rules and regulations when it comes to having a relationship with a co-worker. Informing employees of company policies at early stages of their employment will help ensure they do not transgress and may prevent headaches in the future.
Should a workplace relationship develop, there is potential for the relationship to go in a number of directions, each with different HR implications.
The preferable outcome is for both parties to continue in their roles without it adversely affecting them or their colleagues.  If the employees are capable of leaving their relationship at home, it may not be necessary for HR to intervene. Conversely if the relationship affects their work or disrupts the workplace then a decision to ‘let go’ of one of the employees may be necessary, opening the company up to the possibility of unfair dismissal cases.
If the employer has a relevant policy statement, concerning workplace relationships they may be well within their rights to dismiss one or both employees, as long as the policy complies with the Fair Work Commission regulations (See the Fair Work Commission Act 2009 for further details).
Before taking any action, it would be prudent for managers to consider the impact on workplace culture. If the relationship is not one of a toxic manner or affecting quality of performance, a decision to monitor behaviour and performance of the parties concerned may be made at the company’s discretion, despite the relationship being a possible breach of company policy.
When managers become aware of a relationship between two employees, it may be prudent to separate the couple into different teams or projects ensuring personal relationships do not interfere with work. What is important in discussions of this nature is to ensure the couple don’t feel they are being scolded for being together and they have been given an opportunity to state how they intend to conduct themselves in the workplace. This approach may enable employees to feel more at ease informing their superiors about their workplace relationship, leaving less room for negative situations to emerge and disrupt the workplace culture.
If the HR department and couple concerned discuss their relationship and plan contingencies in the event the relationship ending, it can go a long way towards maintaining a positive workplace environment.
Once again, it is important that any decision be made after counselling with the employee. If an employee is delivered an ultimatum to change role or team, it could adversely affect their work and commitment to the company, potentially leading to resignation. When the employee is involved in the decision they are far more likely to be receptive to change, and can often reinforce their belief they are a valued employee.
The relationship between a manager and subordinate is more likely to become complicated. The Fair Work Commission has stated that if the relationship is between a manager and their direct report, there is potential for conflict of interest and appropriate steps must be taken to manage this (see for more information).
At OCG we are experts in Human Resource Management, if you need advice with your HR policies get in touch with us on 03 9693 9300 or email us at