· Features

Hot topic: Relationships at work, part two

Work is one of the most common places for people to find partners, with 16% thought to have met their spouse this way

But, with a recent Women and Equalities Committee report accusing employers of still failing to tackle sexual harassment, many will understandably feel nervous.

How, or even should, HR deal with office romances?

Harvey Francis, executive vice president and group HR and comms director at Skanska UK, says:

"It’s unrealistic to expect relationships not to happen at work. It’s biological. I met my own wife at work.

"Common sense, underpinned by sensible policies, should be all that’s needed in the majority of situations.There is a clear line between ‘respectful enquiry’ and harassment, and chatting to a few people in my company last year confirmed this. As long as any rebuff is taken and no further approach is made, the people I spoke to saw no issue with this. However, if an approach were to become persistent and unwanted then this clearly crosses the line.HR’s role in these situations may sit at various points on the continuum: mediator, common-sense encourager, and ensuring sensible policies are in place. But most importantly, it must ensure that any and all issues raised or observed are thoroughly looked into.

"Relationships are inevitable, and we must resist the temptation to suck the joy they can bring from the workplace."

Jules Quinn, partner and head of London employment practice at King & Spalding, says:

"Work is one of the most common places for people to find partners but, should a relationship go wrong, employers may face a sensitive and complex situation.

"Some employers have considered requiring employees in consensual relationships to sign a relationship disclosure agreement. I don’t see a huge value in those agreements as it is not the disclosed relationships that are often the problem.

"An organisation should have robust policies that ‘live’ in the firm’s culture to address potential issues around inter-office relationships. Extensive training on harassment and discrimination offers a solid framework for the appropriateness of behaviour, both in terms of advances and the ending of a relationship.

"Employers have a legal duty to protect their employees and create a safe working environment. Crucially, the employer also has a duty to protect itself and other stakeholders. One option becoming more common in the US is insurance to cover employers in the event of a claim."

Read the first part of this hot topic