Let’s start by instantly getting some employment law myths out of the way. Firstly, can an employer safely ban workplace relationships? No. Secondly, can an employee safely ban relationships between members of the same team? No (except in very limited circumstances). And, finally, can action be taken if a relationship blossoms between two members of a same sex team and other members of that team have religion-based objections? Absolutely not!
So, why the theme? Well, at present, the nation seems to be gripped by Love Island which, for the uninitiated, sees strangers gather in a villa in Majorca and attempt relationships with each other (a ‘romantic Big Brother’ if you like). Naturally, as the weeks go by, attempted couplings fail and people start dating ex-partners of other islanders with their former flames in the same vicinity which, as you can imagine, causes many fireworks and causes everyone to go a bit drama llama.
In my line of work, you do semi-regularly come across employers who believe they are able to take action against staff simply due to the fact they are within a relationship (whether that be moving teams, locations and/or even considering dismissal). This appears to come from American TV where, within numerous comedies and dramas, you see characters hiding workplace relationships because, firstly, a form needs completing to put it on record and, secondly, it could put the employment of one of them at risk.
Now, I mentioned at the start of this blog that there were ‘limited circumstances’ in which two members of the same team couldn’t work today whilst in a relationship. And, just to show how truly limited those circumstances are, let’s have a quick look at a rare example based on an old case.
Two police officers, one male and one female, worked within a specialist, highly skilled firearms team. The point of the team was to react quickly and proportionately in stressful, highly dangerous situations (such as, for example, a potential terrorist attack). During their time on the specialist team, the two police officers started dating, which led to a relationship. Once this became apparent, they were asked about their status and they stated that they were in a strong relationship.
The police force therefore stated that one of them would have to leave the team and, whilst one officer did so, they later alleged that the action was akin to unfair dismissal (which we won’t go into the technicalities of here).
Were the police legally able to remove one of the couple (regardless of whether the male or female) from the team into an alternative (non-firearms) team? Unusually, yes! But only because the team was designed to be inserted into situations of extreme danger requiring calm heads and intense focus and, unfortunately, having a partner within that situation as well was foreseeably likely to hinder the safety and effectiveness of that team.
Naturally, when it takes a scenario like the one above to justify action in relation to workplace relationships, it brings home the limited options available to an employer within the majority of everyday situations. After all, some surveys record that over 50% of UK employees date a colleague at least once during their career!
In all honesty, however, it isn’t usually the successful workplace relationships which causes issues within the workplace (even if occasional gossip breaks out within the workforce) but, rather, when those relationships break up! But, given the current televised search for love on Love Island, let’s save that rather thornier topic for another day…