Sex in the workplace - it’s complicated

11 August, 2017

With statistics showing one in four Australians have been or are currently in a workplace relationship, the number of employees getting “down to business”, so to speak, is increasing.

But what are the risks?

While there are no explicit laws governing workplace relationships in Australia—the legal risks are the same as those that exist in any employer/employee relationship—the potential risks are generally amplified when romance blossoms in the workplace.

Workplace relationships can give rise to a host of employment law issues including, but not limited to:

  • Sex discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Bullying
  • Breach of contract
  • Unfair dismissal claims.

Additionally, workplace romances can have significant impacts on productivity, reduce team morale and give rise to allegations of favouritism and abuse of position.

There is also the potential for the relationship to cause reputational damage, particularly if it transitions from love to loath.  

So, what can be done to protect the business?

To effectively manage workplace relationships and mitigate some of the associated risks, we recommend you: 

  • Develop clear guidelines regarding acceptable workplace behaviour. Provide all employees with training and those with line management responsibilities should be acutely aware of the issues that can arise
  • Develop and implement a conflict of interest policy. This policy should outline the procedure for reporting a workplace relationships, and the consequences of non-compliance with the policy
  • Don’t turn a blind eye, and always maintain professionalism. If an employee is involved in a relationship with a colleague or customer, that could create a conflict of interest. You should investigate the issue in accordance with your relevant policies and procedures.

► Office romances can throw up all sorts of HR disasters. CCI has released a special eBook to help employers face this significant business risk in a much more transparent and proactive way. Download it here.