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Law for Business

Knowhow - guidance - precedents

12 AUG 2015

Relationships at work

Pam Loch

Managing Partner


Relationships at work
Often the first thing that comes to mind when we think of relationships at work are illicit affairs between colleagues and office romances. However we are often asked to help clients embroiled in issues at work involving family members rather than office romances that have gone wrong.

When family relationships at work are working well, the positive impact for an organisation with the extra loyalty and motivation from those close relationships is significant. However when the relationship breaks down there is the potential for it breaking up a business too.

Uncontrolled nepotism can be at the core of bitter disputes in business. It can also lead to numerous types of claims from direct and indirect discrimination to breach of contract and harassment claims under the Protection of Harassment Act 1997.

Managing workplace relationships

Employers can and should take certain steps to manage family relationships at work to protect their business. Key steps employers should take are to ensure the following is in place:

  1. Up to date Equal Opportunities and Anti-Harassment policies
  2. Grievance and Disciplinary procedures
  3. A Relationships at Work policy
In relation to managing each relationship then you should consider what steps need to be taken on a case by case basis.

Where an employee is directly managed by their partner or a family member, a number of potentially contentious issues can arise. Can the manager be relied upon to treat their partner the same as everyone else they manage in the department? Resentment by colleagues who feel that they are not being treated the same could result in allegations of discrimination or grievances being submitted. If the manager is responsible for appraisals (which potentially relate to bonuses or promotion) a clear conflict is created and if the manager's decision results in his partner or family relation securing a promotion or a pay rise other colleagues could complain that they have suffered discrimination.

There are various ways to deal with these issues. For example changing the reporting line so that appraisals are undertaken by another manager, with input from the family member they report to. Alternatively, you could ensure there are two managers involved in decisions to give pay rises or promote.

It's critical to consider how to prevent issues arising in the workplace if you do have family or other close relations working with you. Equally important is dealing with any issues that start rearing their head at an early stage and considering alternative ways to address disagreements such as mediation.

If you would like to find out more about managing relationships at work please contact Pam at pam.loch@lochlaw.co.uk

Pam Loch, Managing Director of niche employment law practice, 
Loch Associates Employment Lawyers and Managing Director of HR Advise Me Limited.
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