Lawyer advises firms to weigh risks of office romances

Employers should beware of sacking staff who have an office romance – even though it may be disruptive to the business, a law firm has warned.

The message from law firm Brabners Chaffe Street comes after Boeing chief executive Harry Stonecipher was ousted for having a relationship with a female executive.

The aerospace giant denied that his departure was as a result of the affair itself, but said the circumstances “had raised issues of poor judgement”.

However, Andy Cross, employment lawyer with Brabners Chaffe Street, said other companies should beware of getting rid of staff for similar reasons.

“Employers who sack staff for having a workplace romance could find themselves at an Employment Tribunal,” he said. “Workers’ romances are their own business and not their employers’.

“The only legitimate interest an employer has is how a romance affects their ability to do their job. It may be right to raise the subject if someone’s performance has slipped, but be careful or it could lead to a discrimination or unfair dismissal claim,” Cross said.

“Many companies would like to include in their employment contracts a blanket ban on office affairs. However the ‘no romance’ clauses which some US firms have introduced recently are highly unlikely to stand up in the UK and may well be in breach of human rights law which Employment Tribunals and courts must take account of.

“What employers can do, though, is have in place appropriate policies and procedures setting boundaries on what is and is not acceptable behaviour which may indirectly govern how ‘affairs’ are conducted,” Cross said.

 

 

Michael Millar

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