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Relationships in the workplace can be a minefield both for employees and employers

View profile for Martha McKinley
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Spotting the signs and causes of stress in the workplace

Senior members of staff engaged in relationships with more junior colleagues may face accusations that they are taking advantage of their status and power within an organisation, particularly in light of the “me too” movement. Claims alleging sexual harassment and unfair dismissal can and do result from relationships in the workplace, particularly when they break down.

A responsible employer should therefore follow a balance and transparent grievance process when any allegations are made. Not only does this reassure employees that any concerns will be taken seriously, it also minimises the potential impact on the business and the risk of a claim succeeding at the employment tribunal. The liability of an employer for actions of their employees will be dependent on a number of factors, including whether a comprehensive bullying and harassment policy is in place and whether staff have been given appropriate training and guidance in this area. 

On a related topic, one of the less publicised forms of discrimination prohibited by the Equality Act 2010 is less favourable treatment on the grounds of marriage or civil partnership. Only those individuals who are in this type of relationship are protected however, and an employee subjected to a detriment on the basis that they are unmarried (but in a committed partnership) is not afforded the same rights. Given the steady decline in marriage rates over recent decades, the number of successful claims citing this type of discrimination is likely to diminish even further. It nevertheless remains a valid protected characteristic and should be borne by mind by employers dealing with married workers or employees. 

If you require legal advice or HR support please call our specialist employment law team on 0175 321 6399.

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