BP Toughens Workplace Relationship Policy to Mitigate Conflicts of Interest

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BP Toughens Workplace Relationship Policy to Mitigate Conflicts of Interest
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BP has implemented a new Workplace Relationship Policy. It requires the disclosure of any inter-colleague relationships regardless of whether they may cause conflicts of interest. This comes after the oil and gas giant’s former CEO, Bernard Looney, resigned last year for failing to disclose all his personal relationships. Read on to learn about the original scandal, BP’s response, and how employers can manage personal relationships in the workplace.

What Happened with Bernard Looney?

Bernard Looney joined BP as a drilling engineer in 1991 at the age of 21. He subsequently rose through the company, becoming an executive vice president in 2010 before being promoted to CEO in 2020. Before this happened, it is understood that he disclosed a number of historic personal relationships with colleagues to the Board. However, following allegations last year, an investigation was conducted, establishing that Mr Looney hadn’t been “fully transparent” with his disclosures.

At the time, BP released a statement condemning Mr Looney’s conduct. It stated: “The company has strong values, and the board expects everyone at the company to behave in accordance with those values. All leaders in particular are expected to act as role models and to exercise good judgement in a way that earns the trust of others.”

Mr Looney’s resignation shocked BP’s employees, shareholders, and the wider public. According to The Fortune, the news was published by the Financial Times before it was shared within the company. Speaking to BP employees via webcast, their then-CFO, Murray Auchincloss, said that staff safety was paramount to the company. He added that While the CEO has changed, the fundamentals haven’t.

BP Policy to Targets Conflicts of Interest in Workplace Relationships

In the aftermath of Bernard Looney’s resignation, BP has introduced a new Workplace Relationship Policy. The policy requires senior leaders to disclose personal relationships they’ve had within the company over the past three years “whether or not they represent a conflict of interest”. Staff have until 1 September 2024 to do this or face potential disciplinary action for breaching BP’s Code of Conduct.

BP’s policy previously only required employees to disclose personal relationships if they were likely to cause conflicts of interest. The latest version requires conflicts of interest to be “disclosed, recorded, and—where appropriate—mitigated.”

Read: Personal Relationships at Work: What Does UK Law Say?

However, whilst the Workplace Relationship Policy is logical to an extent, it may raise various issues of its own. Some experts believe such policies’ effectiveness is largely dependent on “a culture of trust and openness” and “consistent enforcement”. Others consider such policies to be excessively intrusive with respect to employees’ personal lives and may negatively impact staff morale. As such, many agree that ensuring employees understand the purpose of a workplace relationship policy (i.e. to ensure the business is not negatively impacted and prevent conflicts of interest) is crucial to its success.

Peninsula’s employment services director, Kate Palmer, has highlighted the concerns that employers are likely to have with respect to employees’ personal relationships. She said: “With statistics showing that 60 per cent of adults have had a workplace relationship, and the potential for these relationships to impact the workplace should things go wrong, having a relationship at work or a mandatory disclosure policy in place is a legitimate tool to help protect both the business and employees.”

How Employers Can Handle Employee Relationships

Many employers question how they can handle employee relationships, and, unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer. Employers must balance their legitimate business interests with their employees’ right to a private life under human rights legislation. Equally important, employers must ensure that the measures they implement do not breach data protection laws, given the personal nature of the information involved.

Imposing a complete ban on all personal relationships in the workplace would most probably be considered disproportionate and infringe on employees’ rights to a private life. However, introducing a clear and thorough workplace relationship policy can provide employers with some reassurance in this regard.

Read: Valentine’s Day 2024: Employee Safety, Office Romances and Potential Risks During The Season of Love

Such policies should define what constitutes a “personal relationship”, explain the reasons for the policy, and encourage employees to disclose such relationships to their employer in confidence. They should also highlight relevant factors such as the continuing importance of confidentiality, potential discrimination or harassment, and conflicts of interest.

How Employers Can Prevent Conflicts of Interest from Personal Relationships
Introducing a clear & detailed workplace relationship policy. Defining what constitutes a “personal relationship” and explaining the policy’s necessity. Fostering a positive culture that encourages the workforce to disclose their relationships.

The culture within a workplace is similarly important. Employees should feel able to talk about such personal matters without fear of retribution. For this, employers should foster an ethos of trust and openness, conveying that employees will be supported and not penalised should they raise any concerns.

Furthermore, it is advisable to provide training alongside the implementation of a workplace relationship policy. This would enable employees to understand the new requirements and identify potential conflicts of interest if applicable.

Need Employment Law Help?

If you have concerns about a personal relationship in the workplace, consider contacting the friendly team of employment law specialists at Redmans Solicitors for confidential advice. To keep up to date with all things employment, why not sign up for our newsletter? We will keep you posted on developments as they happen, from tribunal rulings to workplace tips and everything in between.

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