Should romantic relationships be allowed at work? Part two

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

Jade Ajetunmobi, HR coordinator, Heidrick and Struggles, says:

HR’s role in workplace relationships should be proactive. They should have a policy on workplace relationships to ensure that employees are clear on the guidance around it. Although organisations cannot control employees’ private lives, the guidance should include a clause that HR should be notified of any romantic relationship at work.

If a relationship has impacted the quality of work and placed doubt on a leadership position, a disciplinary procedure should take place and a thorough investigation conducted to consider whether it is a peer or a subordinate. If it is a subordinate, this could be grounds for gross misconduct on grounds of improper or unacceptable behaviour.

HR must be incredibly careful during the disciplinary process to ensure that all parties are supported and do not feel as though they are being persecuted because of their private life.


Adam Pennington, senior associate solicitor, Stephensons Solicitors, says:  

There is nothing in law that restricts co-workers from engaging in relationships. However, complications can arise when there’s an imbalance of power or where colleagues complain of favouritism because of these close relations.

For HR teams, it’s important to strike a balance between employee’s rights to a private life and the interests of the business. While many companies would steer clear of banning relationships outright, some will want to make clear the standards they expect from their staff.

This might be included in a dignity and respect at work policy or a specific policy that requires individuals to disclose relationships that could create a conflict of interest.

A policy like this will typically allow relationships between colleagues if that relationship isn’t at the detriment of the employees’ conduct at work. The higher up in the organisation you are, the more severely the policy is applied. Policies of this type are often known as ‘Love Contracts’.

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