Hot topic: should romantic relationships be allowed at work?

In June, health secretary Matt Hancock resigned over an affair with his aide, Gina Coladangelo, admitting he broke the social distancing rules he had set out for the rest of the country.

The relationship predominately faced public backlash due to lockdown restrictions at the time, however it also brought attention to the overall risks a work relationship can have. What role should HR take if the relationship impacts the quality of a person’s work and places doubt on their leadership position?


Amina Folarin, HR director, The Oliver Agency, says: 

This is a grey area for a lot of people and employers. We spend 70% of our week at work. Pre-pandemic, this time would have been face-to-face in an office and soon, many businesses will return to this way of working.

Naturally, people meet other like-minded people at work. Romances blossom. It’s a fact of life. In most cases, it can be a wonderful thing to happen at work.

As HR professionals, however, we must think carefully about how we manage it. Under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1988, every person has the right to a private life at work, and employees should expect the correct degree of privacy.

While companies have no right interfering with people’s personal lives, they must involve themselves when relationships risk having detrimental effects.

We need to ensure HR empowers people to make the right decisions for them and not become the police to normal interactions. A lot of human connections have been lost, so we should support people to make new ones, even if they are romantic.


Meredith Summey, HR manager, Polywood, says:

Ultimately, the role of HR is to mitigate risk to the company, and if a personal relationship inside the workplace is increasing risk for the company in some way, the situation needs to be addressed.

It is common for people who work in close proximity to develop romantic feelings that often develop into a relationship, and an employer can discourage these types of attachments, but it is nearly impossible to prohibit them entirely.

HR must be able to address the parties involved and express that the relationship should not keep any party from fully performing their job or their abilities.

If a relationship is causing others to question the working ability of an employee, it should be addressed immediately before that employee becomes ineffectual.

It should be pointed out to the employee who should be given the opportunity to correct the behaviour. The first step could come from a supervisor and escalate to HR if there is no satisfactory resolution.


Check back tomorrow for part two of this hot topic

This piece appears in the July/August 2021 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.