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The Consequences of Work Place Romances

By Principal Lawyer, Employment

Three in five British workers admitted to having a relationship with a colleague, according to our new research.

Office romances may be more common than you think, with almost 70 per cent of people knowing of colleagues having a relationship in the workplace.

For many, if a relationship with a colleague breaks down it can cause trouble, with both parties still having to work together in a professional capacity.

Awkward encounters, tension in meetings, being unable to avoid one another and colleagues taking sides, are among a few of the problems of going through a break up with a colleague.

Nearly 60 per cent of people in office relationships were the subject of gossip, of whom three in five felt it made things more difficult. However, the worst impact an office relationship could have may be on your career itself.  

The results from our commissioned research, which surveyed over 2,000 British workers, found that 60 per cent of women found a relationship at work harmed their career, with three in 10 women finding that they were treated differently at work after their office relationship was revealed.

Three in five women felt that they were judged by their colleagues and one in 10 women changed jobs as a result of a relationship with a colleague.

Among the ways in which careers were negatively impacted, one in five women experienced bullying, a quarter were passed over for promotion and one in five lost their job.

For those who are the less senior person involved in the office affair, the negative impact upon the career was revealed to be greater. Compared to those who had a romance with someone at the same or at a lower level, we found more employees - who were the more junior employee in workplace relationships - admitting to having lost the respect of their colleagues, being bullied, side-lined or passed over for promotion. Not only this, they were also more likely to be subject to derogatory comments, given formal and informal warnings and even lose their job.

It is important for anyone thinking of entering into a workplace romance that they give due consideration to the effect it may have on their career and the working environment.

Many workplaces have a code of conduct in place that outline the company’s stance on workplace relationships.

Seven in 10 people entered into an office romance without consideration of their employment contract, despite one in 10 learning their contract forbid it.

Meanwhile, 80 per cent of workers in relationships did not speak to their HR department before or after they began an office relationship.

My top tip for those considering dating someone at work is to be sure that it is something you want to do and don’t feel pressured into it. It is also sensible to find out whether or not your employer has a policy on dating people at work. It might be that your employer requires employees to disclose office relationships in order to avoid conflicts of interest. 

Even if no policy exists remember that you should maintain appropriate conduct at work at all times – even if the relationship comes to an end and it is difficult.

Harriet Bowtell is an employment lawyer based at Slater and Gordon in London.

If you have experienced discrimination at work, speak to one of our employment law solicitors on freephone 0800 916 9060 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help.

Discrimination at work

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