What Is a Workplace Relationship Policy? (Plus Benefits)
By Indeed Editorial Team
Published 7 September 2022
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Employees can spend a considerable amount of time at work and may develop relationships with colleagues or other employees. These relationships can become romantic, which can lead to accusations of favouritism or harassment and can create problems for an organisation. Understanding how workplace relationship policies can prevent this is important to HR professionals, as these policies can help employees proceed appropriately when engaging in romantic workplace relationships. In this article, we define what a relationship policy at work is, explore its benefits, inclusion and exclusions and offer tips for adhering to your workplace's relationship policy.
What is a workplace relationship policy?
A workplace relationship policy is a set of standards for acceptable behaviour for those in a romantic relationship with each other. It considers the organisation's existing codes of conduct and any state or territory laws concerning acceptable employee behaviour. Organisations can create this policy to protect the business, the romantic parties involved and other employees to ensure everyone feels treated fairly. It gives employees guidelines to follow when pursuing, announcing and ending romantic workplace relationships and helps HR professionals manage employees' romantic relationships if they start to negatively impact the workplace.
Benefits of workplace relationship policies
Creating and integrating this type of policy can have the following impacts:
Removes conflict of interest: Policies can prevent employees from sharing confidential client information with romantic partners when it involves one or more business clients. It can ensure impacted parties are aware of the potential conflict of interest and follow outlined procedures to keep the information confidential.
Ensures fair hiring practices: Policies that outline how romantic partners behave can prevent situations where one party unfairly receives a job offer or promotion. For example, if one person applies for a promotion to their partner's division, it can ensure that the partner isn't involved in the interview process.
Encourages fair treatment: If a more senior romantic partner can provide a junior partner with benefits, a policy can prevent them from exploiting this. For example, it can require that an independent manager oversee the junior partner's career to prevent favouritism.
Eliminates intimidation and harassment: Policies give consenting couples a path to follow to navigate their workplace relationship. This can prevent and help identify coercion or bullying by clarifying what's acceptable and what counts as non-consensual behaviour.
Reinforces organisation culture: When an organisation creates a policy, it communicates it to each employee so everyone is aware of their responsibilities in a relationship. Creating something all employees follow can reinforce the workplace's culture and values by ensuring everyone receives the same treatment.
Simplifies legal liabilities: Relationships can end poorly, creating grievances that can lead someone to break the law. If a workplace relationship ends in a legal matter, a workplace policy can prove what each party communicated and consented to, keeping only the guilty parties liable.
Workplace relationship policy inclusions
A typical policy can provide information that answers the following questions:
What constitutes a romantic relationship?
What constitutes a prohibited relationship?
How do I proceed when beginning a relationship, including who to inform, how to inform them and what documents to sign?
How do I proceed when ending a relationship, including who to inform, how to inform them and what documents to sign?
What are acceptable and prohibited behaviours?
What constitutes a breach of policy?
What can I expect if I breach the policy, including who gets informed internally and who gets informed outside of the organisation if the issue escalates?
How can I identify and report harassment, bullying and intimidation inside or outside a relationship?
Workplace relationship policy exclusions
An organisation can prohibit a relationship or require specific changes from one or both parties if it could negatively impact the organisation or its employees. Here's what this can involve:
Relationships with colleagues
Relationships between colleagues can cause concern if the resulting behaviour negatively impacts the organisation, its employees or clients. This can take place when the parties act unprofessionally, for example, by using public displays of affection or romantic nicknames for their partners in front of clients. Employees might interrupt meetings to discuss personal issues while other employees are present. They may also be less productive by taking unnecessary breaks or stopping by each other's work stations more than needed. These acts can result in warnings, disciplinary action and eventually the termination of employment for one or both employees involved.
Relationships between junior and senior employees
If a relationship involves an employee in authority over the person they're in a relationship with, the organisation can request they take action. This can involve transferring one person to another department without them experiencing decreased salary, benefits or responsibilities. If this isn't possible, they can leave both employees in their roles and create safeguards. This can include having HR manage any benefits or responsibilities the junior employee receives to ensure it's in line with their capabilities and commensurate with their performance. Failing to do this can cause complaints from other employees or the junior employee receiving unfair privileges.
Tips for adhering to this type of policy
Following what your policy requires of you can help you minimise the impact that a relationship has on your career. Here are a few tips to help you stick to the policy and prevent issues at work:
Treating your partner formally while at work can help you adhere to your workplace's relationship policy. This can mean treating them as you would any other employee when face to face or communicating via email. If your workplace is more informal, you can refer to them by their first name, but if not, refer to them by their title and surname. Avoid discussing personal issues or referring to your relationship while at work or when interacting with clients.
If your role requires frequent contact with your partner, you can ensure your behaviour is above reproach. Including a third party in your emails and meetings ensures you aren't sharing any prohibited information with each other or exploiting organisation time to spend more time together. If it's necessary to make choices that impact your partner directly, you can request someone else observes or manages you. For example, if you're managing a company raffle and are selecting a winner, you can have a third party witness your selection to ensure you're making an unbiased choice.
Being transparent about your relationship and any changes it has undergone can demonstrate to your employer that you're honest and care about your relationship's potential impact on the organisation. It can also help the organisation prepare for certain issues that can arise from a change in the status of your relationship. For example, you can mention if you're no longer dating someone or if the relationship has become serious and you've proposed marriage. As marriage is a legal contract, it can impact how the organisation structures your benefits and taxes.
Know your rights
Understanding your workplace rights is important, as it can impact how others treat your relationship. This can involve learning more about your workplace's diversity and inclusion policies and its approach to harassment and discrimination. Such policies can protect you if you're in a same-sex or interracial relationship and experience harassment from other colleagues or clients. It can also ensure that you follow the correct protocol to document and report these incidents so that the appropriate action is taken. In this way, you can continue to do your work without fear of retaliation and with minimum disruption to the workplace.
Creating a paper trail can benefit you and the organisation, and it provides proof that both parties followed the workplace's relationship policy. You can adhere to this by confirming HR conversations and meetings with an email and ensuring your direct manager is involved in all these meetings. HR professionals can document this as well, in case senior management or the company board request an audit of HR activities.
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