Love contract trend sparks Human Rights Act warning

Employers that try to import the American practice of banning staff from having relationships with work colleagues could fall foul of the Human Rights Act, lawyers have warned.

Jonathan Chamberlain, partner at law firm Wragge & Co, said organisations most likely to introduce the policy are American firms with UK operations.

He said, "This is one idea from across the Atlantic which travels very badly. Employment tribunals will guard an employee’s right to privacy because of the Human Rights Act.

Earlier this month a report by employment analyst IRS found the majority of employers (63 per cent) deal with the issue by having an informal discussion with the couple (News, 17 October).

Chamberlain added, "We don’t find these policies are flooding in, but those we are seeing are generally the result of US employers trying to introduce their employee handbooks into the UK.

"We think it would only stand up if there was also ordinary misconduct as a result of the relationship."

Employers thinking about banning workplace relationships should ask themselves what they are really concerned about and put policies in place that directly address that issue, Chamberlain said.

The warning comes as regional newspaper publisher Newsquest confirmed it has issued guidelines on staff relationships.

The guidelines – drawn up by group HR director Patricia Soundy and outlined in a company memo – request that staff inform their line manager of a relationship. Failure to do so by some employees whose role involves "an element of trust and confidentiality" could lead to dismissal.

Chairman Jim Brown stressed the company is not trying to outlaw office romances.

He said, "The point is that we want to avoid accusations of favouritism where a boss is having a relationship with a member of staff. That is our concern. At all times common sense prevails."

By Helen Rowe

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