Personal Relationships at Work: What Does UK Law Say?

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Following Phillip Schofield’s resignation earlier this year, ITV have implemented a new ‘Personal Relationships at Work Policy’. We explore this story in more detail and discuss the law surrounding employee relationships.

Furthermore, workplace relationships can have positive and negative impacts, so we will outline what they include. We also discuss what relationship policy at work could be brought in to mitigate any potential negative impacts.

ITV Tackle Personal Relationships at Work

In May 2023, Phillip Schofield resigned from his role of over 20 years as a presenter for This Morning. This was after he admitted to having an affair with a younger male colleague. A spokesperson at ITV said they were “deeply disappointed” by Schofield’s deceit.

They explained how he previously made assurances to them, which were false in light of his admission. Moreover, they said that workplace trust is a part of ITV, meaning Schofield’s deceit made them feel badly let down. 

READ: Being Told To Wear Makeup Is Sex Harassment Rules ET

As a result of this incident, ITV has implemented policies to address personal relationships at work. This policy means disclosing workplace relationships will now be required for all staff, including agency workers and those undertaking work experience. 

Furthermore, disclosing such relationships will extend beyond romantic ones to include others, such as close friendships. Essentially, this policy covers any relationship with a colleague which goes beyond the workplace. Failure to disclose such a relationship could result in disciplinary action, going as far as an employee’s dismissal.

The Law About Personal Relationships at Work

No specific legislation exists to govern personal relationships at work in the UK. That being said, several authorities exist which are relevant to employee relationships. Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 entitles everyone to a private life. Therefore, whilst employers must consider their legitimate business interests, they mustn’t overstep your rights.

Additionally, the Equality Act 2010 prevents individuals from being discriminated against because of their protected characteristics. These characteristics include a person’s sex, and sex discrimination could occur if a female employee is dismissed rather than a male employee because of their relationship.

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is another legislation employers must consider when contemplating a relationship policy at work. Should an employee believe they’ve been harassed, they may be eligible to claim discrimination or constructive dismissal.

How Personal Relationships at Work Affect the Workplace

With people spending a large portion of their lives in the workplace, some will likely develop personal relationships at work. For most, no issues will probably arise because of this. In fact, such relationships could impact the workplace positively by:

  • Giving these employees a greater incentive and investment in the work they do
  • Improving the inner business knowledge due to such employees sharing their expertise and difficulties with one another across departments
  • Supporting employees as they save travel costs from travelling to work together

READ: British Soldier’s Tragic Death: A Call for Stronger Workplace Sexual Harassment Laws

Despite the above positive impacts and several more, workplace relationships can have negative impacts, too. These can include:

  • Preferential treatment, where, for example, a manager in a relationship with a subordinate looks at their annual leave requests more favourably
  • Confidentiality breaches, where those in personal relationships discuss confidential matters outside of work
  • Behaving inappropriately to one another if a relationship breaks down

Employee Relationship Policies Employers Could Adopt

Completely banning personal relationships at work would likely breach an employee’s right to a private life. However, that doesn’t mean employers can’t put measures in place to mitigate risks to the business caused by such relationships. Policies employers may want to consider implementing include:

  • Ensuring that employees disclose any workplace relationships they have so that appropriate steps can be taken to minimise risks
  • Restricting employees who deal with recruitment from the process if it involves someone they have a personal relationship with
  • Potentially changing an employee’s manager if they’re in a relationship with their current one, providing this doesn’t discriminate against them

Employers mustn’t breach employee rights when creating and implementing policies concerning workplace relationships. If you believe you’ve faced discrimination of your protected characteristics or workplace harassment due to a personal relationship at work, contact Redmans Solicitors. They are expert employment law solicitors who can discuss your case and advise you on how to proceed.

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