19 February 2018 by Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr Employment Alert

Work, love and peace – Did Valentine’s Day affect your business this year?

On the 14th of February the workplace may have looked a little redder than usual, but make sure you control the consequences of all the love that goes around. 

The workplace is a fertile ground for office romances, which is hardly surprising considering that employees spend most of their time in workplace. Workplace relationships, if left unregulated, can give rise to behavioural issues and conflict amongst staff. These may include:

  • sexual harassment claims;
  • violations of company policies including sexually inappropriate behavior at the workplace;
  • poor work performance of either employee;
  • perceived favoritism or discrimination claims by other employees; 
  • internal gossip and rumors that can impact on the corporate work environment and contribute towards low employee morale; and
  • potential conflicts of interest when the relationship sours.

Consider your own workplace and whether employees who exhibit ongoing public displays of affection is appropriate behavior. Even though such conduct may not purposely be offensive, it may be considered to be objectionable to some employees or clients, potentially bringing the company’s name into disrepute. 

Importantly, employers are entitled to set standards of acceptable behavior in the workplace and maintain an appropriate corporate culture. This is achieved by implementing safeguards, such as policies on workplace relationships, and what conduct is or isn’t acceptable. 

It will also remain open to employers to institute disciplinary action where the workplace romance gives rise to misconduct or invoking its poor performance procedures in cases where an employee’s work performance deteriorates.

The regular training of supervisors around handling workplace romances and the expected standards of professional conduct would also be a prudent management initiative. 

Although love may be in the air this month, it doesn’t have to be at the expense of a harmonious work environment. Setting expectations from the onset and recording these clearly in an appropriate policy will ensure a harmonious work environment for all.

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