New Rules Forcing Workers to Declare Office Romances

By Milmo, Cahal | The Independent (London, England), December 11, 2002 | Go to article overview
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New Rules Forcing Workers to Declare Office Romances


Milmo, Cahal, The Independent (London, England)


BRITISH COMPANIES are increasingly drawing up formal codes of conduct for employees whose work interests spill over into a sexual relationship.

A survey of leading employers to be published today reveals that the proportion of firms who have written guidelines for office romances has more than doubled in the last two years. The study found 10 per cent of companies now expect enamoured co-workers to declare their relationship if their private and professional lives could lead to a "real or perceived" conflict of interest.

Britain's long work hours culture means an estimated 30 per cent of people will meet their life partner at work. The consequent growth in office romances has led to human resource managers now trying to formalise flirting, in a bid to minimise reprisals against employers if an relationship ends.

According to the survey of 43 companies and institutions - including BT, the Foreign Office, five NHS trusts and four finance houses - some 28 per cent of employers are considering bringing in formal guidelines.

The study, carried out for a specialist journal, IRS Employment review, said: "If dealt with appropriately and conducted sensibly, workplace romances should not present any problem to employers. But get it wrong, and the consequences can be far reaching - potential claims for sexual harassment, charges of favouritism, decreased productivity and fear of reprisal or retaliation."

The result is increasing boardroom twitchiness about how to balance the privacy of workers and an employer's need to ensure a sexual relationship does not lead to unfair pay rises or promotions. While most companies (40 per cent) still prefer to solve any potential difficulties by an "informal chat" with the people involved, 10 per cent said they would seek to generate a workplace culture which would make office romances unacceptable.

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