When Workplace Relationships Overstep the Boundaries…

Employers may find themselves needing to think about workplace relationships on occasion, usually this is when cupid’s arrow strikes between colleagues or in some cases managers and subordinates. But for some employers, it can be just as important to consider the position regarding romantic/sexual relationships outside this context, such as where they involve an employee and a client or customer or someone the organisation is responsible for supporting.

With this in mind, if they have not already done so, some employers may wish to think about:

  • Putting in place a policy regarding such relationships and what conduct is not acceptable in the workplace. It’s important that any such policy is reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances.
  • Clearly communicating the rules to all employees and where it is of particular importance, for example due to the nature or context of the work, including the policy as part of an induction programme for new starters. If employees are aware of the rules and the possible consequences of breaching them, it can help to reduce the likelihood of issues arising. If you already have a policy in place you may wish to consider issuing a reminder about it if it has been a while since this was last done.
  • Making sure employees know how to report concerns regarding inappropriate behaviour.
  • Ensuring managers are alert to inappropriate behaviour in the workplace and are aware of how to handle such matters. Ensuring managers have received appropriate training in addressing areas such as disciplinary issues can mean that matters are more likely to be recognised and addressed promptly and appropriately.

When it comes to addressing conduct matters in the workplace, it’s helpful to bear in mind that in outline this will usually involve:

  • A full and thorough investigation into the matter. Whilst the content of the investigation will depend on the facts of the individual case, it’s likely to involve considering any policy that’s in place, taking statements from witnesses and where appropriate the other person involved, and carrying out an investigation meeting with the employee to establish the facts.
  • Inviting the employee to attend a disciplinary hearing where such action is warranted. A disciplinary invitation needs to cover certain matters and it’s important that any allegation is clear and appropriate based on the evidence. You should contact Kingfisher Professional Services Ltd for assistance if you require a disciplinary invitation. It’s important to remember that the employee will need to be provided with copies of all the evidence at the same time as providing them with the invitation letter. The employee is also entitled to a reasonable amount of time to prepare their defence, five calendar days is usually considered appropriate. Don’t forget the employee also has the right to be accompanied at the disciplinary hearing by a trade union representative or work colleague if they wish.
  • Holding a fair disciplinary hearing – this will involve amongst other things allowing the employee the opportunity to state their case and answer any allegations that have been made.
  • Giving a written outcome and a right of appeal following the disciplinary hearing. It’s important that any decision is reasonable and fair in the circumstances.

If you are concerned about possible misconduct in your organisation it’s important to seek advice on the facts of your case before taking any action. If an employee has less than two years’ service it may be possible to dismiss them without first following the usual disciplinary process, however this will depend on the circumstances of the particular case. It’s important to bear in mind that there are some claims such as discrimination, that even short serving employees can bring.

If you would like assistance with an employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Kingfisher Professional Services Ltd as we are happy to help.