Most of your waking life is spent at work, and though it’s not the most romantic setting, love often blooms by the water cooler. A survey revealed that over 55% of respondents have been involved with someone at work, while 70% of those surveyed by Human and Legal Resources have had relationships with a co-worker.

Even though a quarter of long-term relationships start at work, 20% of UK employers have policies to discourage workers from dating on the grounds that it has a negative effect on personal performance or staff morale. But love at work is a reality that can’t be banned. The best way to protect your organisation and your staff is to know the law and have policies that address the risks.

What you need to know about the law

In the UK, workers who are reprimanded for dating colleagues may be able to take action against their company; it’s unlikely that a tribunal will say an employee was fairly dismissed for an office romance if the relationship didn’t get in the way of their personal or their co-worker’s performance.

Employers are liable for harassment even if it occurred outside of work on personal time. A relationship between a junior and senior member of the team can be particularly dangerous as there’s potential for abuse of power during the relationship or if it goes sour. A harassment claim could come up if a junior worker says they were forced into the relationship.

There are some businesses that require staff to alert HR if they start a relationship with a colleague, but this is hard to enforce, too: at what point in the relationship should they tell HR? Disclosure won’t help an employer in a tribunal if a harassment claim is made.

Some companies in the US have ‘love contracts’, which is an agreement between the employees and the company. It states that the relationship is consensual, the employees have read the organisation’s sexual harassment policy, and they have agreed not to sue the employer if the relationship dissolves. This isn’t enforceable under UK law, however – you can’t ask employees to waive claims for something that hasn’t happened yet.

How to prevent relationship-related risk

The best way to deal with romantic relationships at work is to outline clear behavioural expectations and have procedures in place should problems arise. Your policy might include:

 Behaviour expected in the workplace (e.g. no PDA in the office)

 Your right to reassign tasks for procedures that affect the couple (e.g. appraisals, grievance or disciplinary hearings)

 The ability to transfer or dismiss one or both of the couple if it’s necessary for the interest of the business. Your ability to do this would be subject to their work contract.

Policies about workplace relationships must be non-discriminatory; same sex relationships should be treated in the same way as opposite sex relationships as this will avoid claims of sexual orientation discrimination.

It’s that time of year when love is in the air, and as an employer, you can’t prevent workplace relationships. If Cupid visits your office, acknowledge the situation and make sure you protect your organisation by communicating clearly with all parties involved – a key ingredient to any successful relationship.

Author's Bio: offers a specialist HR recruitment service to candidates and employers in the HR recruitment market.

The site also hosts a wealth of HR, recruitment and job-hunting resources from industry experts, as well as a dedicated blog to help keep you up to date with all the latest HR trends.

Search and apply for the latest HR Jobs with Changeboard.