American companies are renowned for their hard-line approach towards workplace romances; many ban them outright and will sack any employee discovered to be having a personal relationship with a colleague. But this type of attitude is inappropriate under our laws which probably explains why one-in-six people openly confess to dating a colleague.

Dangerous liaisons

Further research by the Work Foundation reveals that 21% of managers have been romantically involved with someone who reports to them at some point. While wedding bells might be the happy outcome for the couple in question, this situation can be tricky for you. It isn’t uncommon for a manager to show favouritism towards their partner probably for a quiet life at home. For example, they might allow a decline in their standard of work to go unchallenged. As this is certain to cause bad feeling among other staff, it must be dealt with. But how is that done?

Start with the immediate problem of the declining work performance. Gather your supporting evidence together; this could include diary notes of poor timekeeping, examples of sloppy work and copies of any complaints made. Then, meet informally with the junior employee alone. This allows them to speak freely about any genuine problems they may have.

Next, speak to the line manager independently to discover why the poor performance hasn’t been dealt with; the problem could rest with them for example, they know something relevant but haven’t told you. Again, at this stage, you should discuss the matter informally, but do remind them of their responsibilities. In most cases, this will be enough to give the ’love birds’ a wake-up call; from then on, they will know you will be watching them.

If performance problems persist, deal with both employees via your disciplinary procedures. Never discipline one member of staff for example the junior employee and not the other. This could land you with a sex discrimination and/or constructive dismissal claim.

Policy on relationships

Finally, play it safe with a ’Personal Relationships at Work Policy’, that clearly sets out what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour for employees, who are romantically involved. You should include topics such as behaving professionally at all times: no public ’lovers’ tiffs’, demonstrations of affection or favouritism in other words, no behaviour that is likely to offend or annoy colleagues.

l For a free sample of ’Personal Relationships at Work Policy’, please contact the NAMB on 01920 468061