The Right To Fall In Love At The Workplace

Posted: November 24, 2010 in Uncategorized
Dear Workplace Coach,
I have often heard of cases where employees are sacked from the workplace because they were found to be in a relationship with a colleague at work.  I am told that in some cases some organisations will request both employees to leave, and in other cases they will give the couple the opportunity to decide who should leave.  I want to ask my question from two angles.

 
 

The first is about the right of the employees to fall in love.  Don’t employees have the right to fall in love at the workplace?  Why should anyone be restricted from falling in love anywhere, especially when the phenomenon of falling in love is not necessarily determined/controlled by the one falling in love because it is something that just happens?  What protection do employees have against employers who decide to terminate the employment of such employees?

And secondly, is it fair for employers to terminate the employment of a hardworking employee just because he/she is in a relationship with a colleague?
Young Executive

Issues in discussion
The issues you have raised are extremely sensitive.  Apparently, it is something that goes on a lot in some organisations.  I personally know of at least two such organisations, one in the banking sector and the other in the hotels and tourism sector.  People meet and fall in love in all sorts of places.  In Ghana, funerals are one common place people meet, get acquainted and fall in love.  Others meet at parties, church, the mall (these days), picnics, the beach and mostly at work.

To write this article, I went reading around the subject to get a full grasp of what the international community think about romantic relationships in the workplace – and especially how they are handled. I found or rather read that “Forty-one percent of employed Americans ages 25-40 have admitted to having engaged in an office romance, according to a joint survey sponsored by Glamour magazine and Lawyers.com.” The study states further that respondents had the most problems with romance when a manager dated a reporting staff person.

From a recent Vault.com survey of several thousand employers and employees, she states that inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace is also common on company time and at company locations.  Apparently, most organisations in the US at the time of the survey did not have workplace policies on office romance.  I believe I can relate to that because as a HR consultant for a number of years, I am yet to see any documented workplace policy on office romance in any Ghanaian company.  It’s possible that some exist, but they are surely not common.  What is common, though, is that many employers frown on relationships in the workplace but only a few seem to be doing something about it – such as terminating the employment of workers who are found to be in a relationship with a colleague in the workplace.

So we will look at the fairness or otherwise of terminating the employment of a worker for falling in love in the workplace.  We will also discuss whether employers are permitted under our Labour Laws to do this, and the protection workers have generally against employers or organisations that practice this policy.

Types of Romantic Relationships in the Workplace…
Romantic relationships in the workplace may generally be classified in terms of the parties involved in the relationship and especially their positions in the organisation.

The first type of romantic relationship you are bound to find in a workplace is one between the owner of the business and an employee.  Some female owners of businesses sometimes also engage in romantic relationships with their male employees.  This type of relationship always has a stubborn repercussion for discipline in the workplace.  The employee most often becomes disrespectful and insubordinate to his/her managers or supervisors because s/he is in bed with the boss. This also goes for relationships between a businessowner and a member of management.

The second type is a romantic relationship involving two managers or supervisors.  In this case, the problem is not insubordination but reduced concentration on the job, little or no supervision of subordinates, and a reduced quality of work.  A romantic relationship between two managers is bound to grossly affect their productivity and contribution to work in the organisation.  An increase in business errors or accidents in a factory may be inevitable as concentration reduces and parties remain absent or half-minded because of consistent thoughts and day-dreaming about each other.

The third type is a romantic relationship between a Manager/Supervisor and an employee.  This I believe is the most common you may find in the workplace.  This also breeds a lot of contempt against the employee within the work-team or department because the employee involved may all of a sudden begin to act as if all others are below him/her.  S/he may become stubborn and disrespectful towards other managers or colleagues in the workplace because of the relationship with the manager.  Further, such relationships normally breed jealousy because more than one person might have been interested in the manager.  Managers/Supervisors also get very protective of an employee they are in a relationship with.  They discriminate against other employees and grant their partner favours that normally should not accrue to them.  Some managers/supervisors even embezzle funds from the organisation just to satisfy their partner’s luxurious and costly demands.

Finally, a workplace romance may take place between two employees.  I must admit that even though it has the tendency to affect the work of the individual employees involved, adverse effects of this type of romantic relationship is not as high as that of managers/supervisors and employees.  This is because where supervision of their work is effective, employees involved in romantic relationships in the workplace do not have the power to waste as much time as they would normally if not effectively supervised.  Unfortunately, general supervision of work in the Ghanaian working environment is lax and quite ineffective.  And that is what makes such relationships very unwelcome in the workplace for many employers.  Because employees involved in romantic relationships have a lot of time on their hands when unsupervised or under-supervised, they are free to do all they want to; such as send romantic emails, talk to each other on the phone, chat on the Internet, write love-notes, letters and poems to each other, meet each other in the washroom and do all the amorous and sexually illicit things imaginable.

Workplace Romance Vrs. Human Rights…
Is it truly against the human right of employees to terminate their employment when they are found to be in romantic relationships?  Okay, so some may argue that a policy against workplace romance is against the human rights of the employees involved; that employees, as citizens of this country, have the right to fall in love; that no law precludes anyone in this country from falling in love…even in the workplace. And that employees reserve the right to fall in love with whoever they choose to fall in love with and anywhere they choose to, even in the workplace. Now, that is very true and I am inclined to agree with them.  Employees truly have the right to fall in love with whoever they choose to – but at what cost to the business and its owner?

Come to think of it, a business is a profit-making venture.  Anything other than profit-making activities is unwelcome to the interest of the business and hence the organisation.  Romance or romantic relationships do not and are not aimed at satisfying the interest of the organisation but individual interests.  This is a conflict of interest and must be treated as such.  But what justification would an employer have for documenting policies against falling in love in the workplace?  Would that be fair?

The Labour Act, 2003 (Act 651) is specifically silent on workplace romance, but generally addresses it through a provision for the “protection of interest” of the other party in an employment relationship.  The Labour law also has provisions on sexual harassment.  However, sexual behaviour is only harassment if such behaviour is without consent and unwelcome for the other party.  In workplace romance, mutual consent is bottom line and cannot constitute sexual harassment.

Perhaps, when treated as conflict of interest, policies against romantic relationships in the workplace may have appropriate grounds.  The closest document to legislation on conflict of interest is the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice’s guidelines on Conflict of Interest.  The guidelines were published to assist employees identify, manage and resolve conflicts of interest in especially the public sector.  It defines conflict of interest as “a situation where an ‘employee’s’ personal interest conflicts with or is likely to conflict with the performance of the functions of his/her office” (my emphasis).  Clearly, two people falling in love in the workplace and acting in each other’s interest cannot be deemed to be in the interest of the employer or organi0ation and hence remedies for dealing with conflict of interest in the workplace may be used to address office romance issues in the workplace.

What to do?
So perhaps, documenting a policy against falling in love in the workplace may be extreme and difficult to argue in a court of Law or before the National Labour Commission.  Documenting a policy against sexual and romantic behaviour in the workplace is surely justifiable.  Requesting an employee or employees to resign only because they have been found to be in a relationship is unfair – especially when it cannot be proven that the relationship has an effect on their job performance.  The Labour Act, 2003 (Act 651) is very clear on what constitutes fair termination of employment, and this does not include termination of employment for falling in love. Rather, it talks about incompetence of the worker or proven misconduct.  If it can be proven that falling in love in the workplace is indeed misconduct, then employers can enforce and defend this policy. Unfortunately, I do not think falling in love in the workplace is misconduct.  Rather, open sexual expressions such as passionate hugging, kissing, and sex in the workplace constitute misconduct and must be dealt with unconditionally.

Regulations or policies for effectively dealing with office romances do not and must not seek to take away the rights of employees, or anyone for that matter, to fall in love in the workplace.  The regulation must seek to inform employees that all employee activities of a romantic or sexual nature that evidently have adverse effects on work performance and hence productivity cannot be tolerated in the organisation.  It must also be stated clearly that such acts constitute misconduct and, if proven, lead to specific sanctions against employees found culpable.  All employees must be well-informed and educated against inappropriate workplace behaviour, especially behaviour of a sexual nature which emanates from romantic relationships.
I pulled a few tips from about.com for employees as well.  “If Cupid strikes and you find yourself attracted to a co-worker, these actions will minimise any possible damage to your career.  Know your organisation’s written and unwritten policies about romantic, sexual, extramarital, or dating relationships.  Keep the relationship private and discreet until one of you is able to change jobs.  Surely, I will not encourage a married couple to work in the same organisation as it presents financial risks when both lose their jobs through redundancy for example.  Keep public displays of affection off-limits at work.

Limit the number of people at work with whom you share this confidential information.  And if your position and responsibilities require you to work together, attend the same meetings and so on, behave professionally at all times. You are encouraged to be yourself, maintain and speak your continuing opinions, exhibit the same skills, and conduct yourself in the same manner as you did prior to the relationship.  Discuss, as a couple, the potential impact of your relationship on your work. (Will one employee have to leave a department or the company?  Will your organisation respond favorably to your relationship?) Know your company and make a plan before the organisation requests one.”

What do you think? I’d really like to hear what you think about workplace romance, dating a colleague at work, amorous affairs in the workplace and other workplace relationship issues. Are you following any of these recommendations in your organisation?  How much of the romance problems are you experiencing in your workplace? Talk with us at Corporate Aims Services, info@coaims.com.

The Writer is an International Employment Relations Advocate and the CEO of Corporate Aims Services Ltd, a Labour Law and Employment Relations Consultancy in Ghana. He is also a Mediator and Arbitrator listed with the National Labour Commission, Ghana.

 

Source: BFT

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s