Office love: How to make relationships work at work

Alexandra Bullmore, Employment Solicitor at Smith Partnership, looks at how best to approach workplace romances
Alexandra Bullmore
A couple flirt in the office

Despite the popularity of online dating, most people in a romantic relationship are still more likely to have found their partner at work.  

In a recent survey by recruitment site Total Jobs, 22% of 5,795 respondents said they met their other half in the workplace, against 18% who were introduced though friends, 13% who matched through dating apps and 10% who got together on a night out. 

A further 8% met at a social event, 7% at school or university, 6% through family members, 3% as result of a shared hobby or pastime and 2% while on holiday.    

While most people would agree that finding love is a good thing, romance that blossoms in the workplace can become a HR headache if it starts to interfere with work. 

Conflicts of interests and confidentiality issues can arise – with information meant strictly for the boardroom shared in the bedroom.

Similarly, colleagues might make complaints of preferential treatment, especially in situations where one half of the couple is in a more senior role than the other.  

It could be seen as favouritism, if, for example, a manager undertakes an appraisal or performance review for a member of staff they’re romantically involved with. To avoid accusations or suggestions of unfairness from colleagues, such managerial duties and responsibilities should be assigned to another member of the team. It’s advisable that your HR team is made aware of the relationship as soon as possible.  

If two employees who are going out together and both hold jobs of equal status, then there is less chance that their romantic liaison will be viewed as problematic by work colleagues or management.  

However, no one wants to witness public displays of affection in the workplace – it's off-putting, distracting, and inappropriate - so couples should always exercise discretion while at work.  

Where a workplace relationship breaks down acrimoniously, measures should be taken to ensure the couple’s personal lives don’t impact on their ability to do their jobs or adversely affect colleagues. If the two work in close proximity, it might be sensible to separate them – while always ensuring that both parties are treated equally and fairly.  

In the USA it is common for employees to have to enter into an employer agreement called a consensual relationship agreement if they are dating a work colleague, but no such regulation exists in the UK. An employer would find it difficult to enforce a similar policy here due to the EU regulations on a right to respect for private and family life. A ban on workplace relationships is unlikely to be enforceable in Britain. 

To deal with such sensitive matters of the heart, UK employers need to take a softer approach. They may, for example, want to draft a policy requiring employees to at least disclose any relationships so that steps can be taken to remove any potential issues, such as changing reporting structures.  

Relationships at work policies are an option, but they are still rare in the UK. Whatever action is taken, employers must always make sure that one person is not treated less favourably than another if they want to avoid any potential upset or claims.  

UK sex discrimination legislation demands that men and women must be treated equally. Employees becoming more than just colleagues shouldn't present any difficulties as long as policies and codes of conduct relating to behaviour at work are followed. 

If your workplace is experiencing problems caused by romantic relationships, then you need to seek employment advice. Every situation is different, so it is important to look at the specific facts of each scenario to prevent any claims being brought. At Smith Partnership we have a great deal of experience in this area and would be happy to help.  

Written by
Alexandra Bullmore
Written by
February 13, 2023