It’s fair to say there has been a significant amount of media coverage on Phillip Schofield in relation to him lying about his relationship with a younger colleague. This, in turn, has thrust ITV into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons and arguably caused the Company significant reputational damage.
As an employer, perhaps there are some learning opportunities for ITV in the wake of this, in order to mitigate the risk of such reputational damage and credibility.
There is a fine line and balance to be struck in terms of protecting your business interests and interference with an employee’s right to a private life. It is therefore inadvisable to have a policy of banning relationships between colleagues altogether. However, it may be wise to have a policy relating to this, which sets out rules that employees are expected to adhere to.
In this regard, there are a number of considerations as to what these rules ought to be, including whether there is any potential inequality of power between the individuals, for example in a relationship between a relatively junior and particularly senior employee, which may give rise to issues as to consent. There is also a risk of preferential treatment, particularly if the senior employee manages/supervises the junior employee’s work, and the junior employee’s access to confidential information that they may not otherwise be privy to, but for their personal relationship with a senior colleague. There is also the issue of how this may damage staff morale generally if other employees perceive there to be preferential treatment.
Furthermore, there is also a risk of discrimination claims arising out of personal relationships at work, particularly if a relationship between colleagues ends badly, which could result in an employer facing lengthy and costly litigation.
As well as a sensible policy regarding relationships at work which addresses these considerations, employers would be well advised to adopt a culture whereby employees are free to raise concerns relating to this. This includes employers ensuring employees are not penalised in any way for doing so.
It would also be sensible for employers to educate their staff on these matters, by way of training. It is advisable that training is provided to all staff when such a policy is introduced, so that all colleagues are clear on what is and is not permitted in the workplace, and to ensure employees genuinely feel supported should they want to raise a concern in this regard.
If you would like any advice or information about relationships at work, please contact a member of the Employment Team at email@example.com.
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