This Valentine's Day it is worth reflecting on the excellent work of dear old Cupid. However, do we want him strutting his stuff in the workplace?

It has been estimated that one in five people meets their partner at work. This is not surprising given the amount of time we all spend in the workplace (for most employees this is at least 160 hours per month). However, there can be pitfalls for employers.

There are clear employment law risks such as the possibility of a harassment or discrimination claim. For example, when a relationship turns sour or where a colleague’s advances are not welcomed.   

Relationships at work can also give rise to a wider range of HR challenges. These include allegations of favourable treatment and the impact of a relationship on the dynamics of the workplace.

In the US, some employers ban office romances in order to try and avoid liability. Some have even adopted ‘Cupid contracts’ which involve employees in a relationship agreeing that they won’t sue their employer if things turn sour between them.

In the UK it would be unusual to have an absolute prohibition on workplace relationships or to put in place a Cupid contract.  Is it, however, something that employers should consider implementing?

Well, first of all, it is unlikely that a Cupid contract would be enforceable in the UK.

Further, whilst it is possible to put in place a policy banning workplace relationships, this may be inadvisable from both a logical and practical perspective.

Romantic workplace relationships are inevitable; regardless of any policies employers may put in place to prohibit them. Banning them is likely to prompt employees to hide the relationship.  

Also, difficulties may arise in trying to capture what a “workplace relationship” is. For example, does it include a single drunken kiss at after work drinks which is never repeated or is it only intended to capture “dating” and if so, when does that start?

If a prohibition on workplace romance is not the answer, then what is?

In order to help manage the situation, employers may wish to put in a place a policy relating to personal relationships at work which sets out the expectations around what behaviour is acceptable and what is not.

It is also good practice to have an equal opportunities policy and an anti-harassment and bullying policy in place.  

These policies may lack the romance of a Valentine’s card but are very sensible nonetheless.