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Are office romances dead?

By Claire Mansell - 3 Apr 2018 - 2 comments

In light of the recent sexual harassment scandals coming out of Hollywood (and closer to home), many people are wondering whether old fashioned office romances are a thing of the past. Given that one in five people meet their partner at work, this could be bad news for singletons.

Sexual harassment has a specific definition under both the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1993. Generally speaking, there are two types of sexual harassment - coercion and annoyance. Coercion occurs where an employer requests sexual activity in return for preferential treatment or as a threat against the employee's ongoing employment. Fortunately, this type of harassment is relatively uncommon.

Annoyance harassment occurs if an employee is subject to behaviour, language or material which is sexual in nature and unwelcome or offensive. The harassment must, either by its nature or by repetition, have a detrimental effect on the employee. The behaviour can come from the employer, a co-worker, customer or client. The employee doesn't have to express that the behaviour is unwelcome or offensive at the time.

So, asking a colleague out on a date is unlikely to fall under the legal definition of sexual harassment. But, as always, context is key. Two colleagues from separate departments going on a date might not cause an issue, but a CEO repeatedly asking the office junior out for a drink would be a different story. Also, many employers have specific policies regarding sexual harassment and inter-office romances. If you are a budding Romeo (or Juliet) it will pay to double check your policies before making your first move!


Claire Mansell


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Hi Claire Just read your article on sexual harassment in the workplace.

We are currently in the process of updating our sexual harassment policies which will also include zero tolerance of workplace relationships between employees.
The reason being, the risk to all employers is now too great.

Guilt by accusation is very difficult to counter and not worth the risk.

For most employers particularly smaller ones they will find it difficult to defend against and will in most cases be certain to lose and be at risk of significant compensation payouts.

While it is true many couples in the past have met their partners at work the Internet now provides numerous dating sites for people looking for a partner.

Are Workplace romance’s dead?

Certainly in our workplace they will be.
Internet dating has made them unnecessary.


Hi Chris

Outlawing relationships is certainly one way to deal with this thorny problem! It's great that you are updating your policies to make sure you and your employees are safe. But policies are just half the story. Have you considered carrying out training as well so that your employees are aware of your expectations? People often have very different ideas about what constitutes inappropriate behaviour.

Claire Mansellreply

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