After the recent story that hit the news regarding McDonald’s firing its chief executive after he had a relationship with an employee, Australian businessman Mr Lyon contacted the BBC to tell his story. Mr Lyon fell in love with a junior colleague at work. Mr Lyon’s love story had a happy ending and he married the colleague he fell in love with and they have now been together for 12 years. But his employment story did not have such a happy ending. Mr Lyon lost his senior management job as a result of the relationship, despite him being unaware of any clear policy at work about dating colleagues.

Office romances are not uncommon. According to the BBC, various studies show that between a quarter and a third of all long-term relationships start at work. Whilst in Mr Lyon’s case the relationship was consensual, not all liaisons between colleagues are. The sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein have highlighted issues with sexual activity between co-workers, especially when one is more senior than the other.

So where does that leave employers? Here are some considerations to bear in mind when it comes to policies on relationships in the workplace:

  • Would your staff benefit from a policy on relationships at work?
  • Would the aim of any such policy be to stop relationships forming in the workplace or to ensure they are disclosed to minimise any conflicts and the risk of a non-consensual relationship?
  • Do you have a clear policy in place about sexual harassment in the workplace and do you train your employees about this? 
  • Do employees know who to go to if they have a concern or complaint about inappropriate behaviour? A well drafted grievance process can assist with this.