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Feb 21, 2023
According to a Seek survey, 30% of Australians have had a romantic relationship with someone from work. As an employer, you might be thinking: can you create policies to prohibit relationships? Or do you require that staff in a relationship declare a Conflict of Interest? Can an employee be dismissed for having an internal relationship?
“Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour where a reasonable person would have anticipated the possibility that the person harassed would feel offended, humiliated, or intimidated. It has nothing to do with mutual attraction or consensual behaviour” as defined but the Human Rights Commission Australia.
Even though the relationship may be consensual, there is still a risk of sexual harassment that can occur during or after the relationship.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is against the law, and anyone who sexually harasses another is responsible for their behaviour and is liable for legal action.
In Australia, an employer can be legally liable for the behaviour of their employees; this is called “vicarious liability”. An employer can be liable unless they can show they have “taken all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination or harassment from occurring in their workplaces and that they have responded appropriately to resolve incidents of discrimination and harassment” (HRC Australia). Vicarious liability also extends to technology, such as computers, phones, and tablets, that are owned or used for business purposes and are used to harass another.
Looking past harassment, workplace relationships also can also lead to bullying, favouritism, conflicts of interest and bias, causing issues for other team members. This is especially the case if one person is in a position of power or leadership.
As an employer, it’s integral to protect your employees. Ensure you have created a policy for appropriate workplace relationships between team members and ensure support options are available, such as EAP or HR support. You also need to create a safe space for people to disclose that they are in romantic relationships, as otherwise if could be kept hidden and become more disruptive.
Same-sex relationships can be more complicated. LGBTQIA+ people may not wish to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity for various reasons, of which harassment is a significant fear; so what is an employer to do when legally HR cannot have a different set of rules for LGBTQIA+ team members?
It starts with eliminating harassment by ensuring your workplace is accepting, and your team members do not feel uncomfortable or scared to speak with their HR department or manager for fear of future harassment or being treated differently. You should treat LGBTQIA+ people like other workplace romances, but with the utmost discretion and privacy policies in place.
So what should you do if there is a workplace romance between your team members?
If you have a question or concern about relationships between your team members or need help to create a formal policy, please call us on 1800 868 254 or email your questions to email@example.com.
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