Valentine's Day 2014: The Legal Problems in Office Romances
Valentine's Day 2014: The Legal Problems in Office Romances Reuters

With Valentine's Day fast approaching, those looking for love may not need to look any further than the peripheries of the office.

Most people who work in the same environment and with the same people on a daily basis develop strong working relationships with their colleagues.

This is particularly true for those professions where people spend more time with their colleagues than they do anyone else.

Blurring the Lines

Although strong working relationships are imperative for a successful business, it is not uncommon for these relationships to stray beyond the boundaries of a professional working relationship and into the realms of romance.

A survey referred to on the Acas website has found that three quarters of employees have considered a romance in the office and more than half have actually embarked on a relationship with a colleague.

As common as it is to find love in the workplace, any such decision should be treated with caution and Valentine's Day is the perfect time for employers to reconsider their policies where workplace romance is concerned.

A relationship with a colleague is unlikely to warrant any disciplinary action unless there are specific restrictions within the organisation which ban relationships between staff, however businesses should consider a policy which requires a relationship to be disclosed.

Many employees hide the fact that they are in a relationship, particularly if one is more senior, and many issues for the employer can arise as a result, for example:

Often there are confidentiality clauses within employment contracts. By revealing confidential information, an employee is likely to be in breach of contract. This could potentially result in disciplinary action being taken against them. Depending on the seriousness of the breach, this could even amount to gross misconduct.

A 'no romance' policy may not be necessary but a policy which requires employees to disclose a workplace romance can be very beneficial to the employer as well as to employees.

From an employer's perspective, the risks considered above can be effectively managed and from an employee's perspective, the policy will clarify their position should romance be in their sights.

Some employees do not consider the effects a workplace romance can have on a business and if a policy is not in place, may not realise how serious these concerns can be. A robust policy can ensure that disciplinary action can be taken promptly and consistently should any issues arise as a result.

There have been several articles containing advice for employees considering workplace romance, with helpful tips such as don't date a supervisor, don't let romance affect performance and avoid PDAs (public displays of affection)!

As good as this advice is, and as helpful as a policy may be, of course advice and policies are not always followed. Remember, as always, if you are considering taking disciplinary action against an employee, act fairly and reasonably and follow your own disciplinary policy and ACAS guidance.

Catharine Geddes is a partner at law firm Lester Aldridge