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Employer Advice on Managing Romantic Relationships in the Workplace

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With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, people around the world are gearing up to celebrate love in all its forms. While some will be buying gifts and securing last-minute dinner reservations, others may be engaging in an evening of self-care or spending some quality time with family and friends. Regardless of how – or if – you celebrate Valentine’s Day, the general consensus is that this day is not typically one that is observed at work. However, for those engaged in a romantic workplace relationship, the division between work and personal life may converge on February 14.

Are romantic relationships in the workplace illegal?

There are no established rules or laws against romantic workplace relationships in Canada. However, the business should prohibit any relationship if it may or will cause a real or perceived conflict of interest, if it negatively impacts the company’s business interests or if it is in breach of an employer’s policy.

For example, if a manager is dating one of their employees and the employee receives special treatment because of the relationship, it would result in a conflict of interest. Similarly, if an employee is engaging in a relationship with a client and, as a result, gives that client a better deal or better service, it would also likely constitute a conflict of interest.

As a general rule, romantic relationships between superiors and subordinates should be avoided if possible. Due to the power differential, the subordinate may be subjected to a toxic work environment if the relationship were to end which could expose the business to legal claims.

What documentation should I put in place?

Businesses of all sizes should have a workplace interpersonal relationship policy implemented at their workplace to be proactive about office romances. This policy will set out the company’s expectations regarding interpersonal relationships in the workplace and help the employer in creating and maintaining a professional and respectful environment in which conflicts of interests and other disruptions are avoided.

The policy will also set out the disclosure requirements for employees engaging in interpersonal relationships at work and detail which relationships are prohibited and why.

Can I terminate my employees for engaging in a romantic relationship at work?

Since employees can generally be terminated on a without cause basis at any time for any reason (so long as that reason is not discriminatory), employers have the right to terminate their employees for engaging in a romantic relationship if they so choose.

What should I do if my employees are engaging in a romantic workplace relationship?

If an employer has staff members engaging in an office relationship, it may be beneficial to take a more lenient approach than to ban the relationship altogether (so long as the relationship is consensual, reported to management in the correct way and does not create a disruption, conflict of interest, or negatively affect the company’s business interests).

Good employees are hard to come by and replacing these valuable staff members takes time and creates additional hiring and training costs for the employer. Before taking any drastic measures such as termination, the employer should consider finding a way to accommodate the relationship so that it works for everyone. Examples of how to do this may be separating the employees’ work stations if they work close to each other to decrease distraction or making minor changes to teams or reporting structures to create some separation.

Regardless of how an employer chooses to deal with romantic relationships in the workplace, they must ensure that each instance is dealt with in the same way to ensure equality and consistency.

Do you need help developing a workplace relationship policy?

Our experts can assist you with company policies and with any other human resource management, health & safety, or employment advice you may need. To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, call us today at 1 (833) 247-3652.