Should a company ban all workplace personal relationships?
McDonald’s fired its CEO, Steve Eastbrook, earlier this month due to his violation of the company policy not to have a workplace relationship. Despite the fact that Mr Eastbrook was praised for reviving the business’ profits and employee well-being, he was told that he demonstrated poor judgement and acted strictly against policy for having a relationship at work. Other businesses, such as Intel, have adopted a similar policy and Brian Krzanich stepped down after having a consensual relationship with an Intel employee in 2018.
Should a company consider imposing a blanket ban on consensual workplace relationships?
In the age of the #MeToo movement, it is understandable why many businesses are seeking to impose such a policy. Such relationships can place risk on a business if the relationships end badly or where the relationship is between a manager and their direct report and there are concerns of abuse of power. A relationship involving a junior colleague could lead to allegations of sexual harassment or sex discrimination.
Is this an infringement to an employee’s private life under Article 8 of the ECHR? After all, many people have been in, or are in a successful relationship with someone they met at work.
What is the answer?
It depends on the business. However, a standard policy can be introduced which allows personal relationships at work between colleagues as long as they do not negatively affect the employees concerned or negatively impact the business itself. Some businesses implement a policy to remind employees of their expectation in relation to their conduct. A policy should also require employees to disclose the relationship to a Senior Manager or to HR (which may lead to employees moving to other areas of the business or change their direct report to avoid any conflict from arising.)
It may also be worth reinforcing existing sexual harassment and bullying policies to ensure the business demonstrates a zero tolerance stance to such conduct.
If you would like assistance in preparing a personal relationship policy or indeed a sexual harassment policy please do not hesitate to contact Melanie Penn or Sejal Raja.
This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.