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With Valentine’s Day around the corner, love is in the air more than usual. Love in the workplace is more than an occasional occurrence. In fact, relationships formed at work are quite common, with studies showing between 30% and 50% of employees engage in workplace romances.

This is not surprising given that people spend so much of their lives at work. Workplace romance is a reality that employers would be wise to accept and manage. 

This can be addressed in a number of ways, including the implementation of policies, in writing and practice, to support both healthy workplaces and relationships. 

The following specifically provides important factors that can help support love at work.   

Promoting a Workplace Free from Unhealthy Relationships

An intimate relationship between two employees of a workplace should not, in and of itself, be a major cause for concern for an employer.

What is more important is the kind of relationship that can lead to unhealthy outcomes, including potential power imbalances or uncertainty relating to consent. Specifically, employers should be focused on matters such as potential workplace harassment, conflicts of interest, insubordination, and jealousy and/or resentment from co-workers.

An employer can specifically help to minimize unhealthy and/or inappropriate relationships by creating and implementing effective workplace policies in anticipation of workplace relationships and the related issues that can arise.

Employers should, therefore, develop and consistently apply policies addressing:

  • What constitutes inappropriate behaviour;
  • Specific rules governing the management of workplace relationships (i.e., written disclosure of the relationship); and
  • Consequences for violation of workplace relationship policies.

Furthermore, employers have a legal obligation to ensure workplaces are free from discrimination and harassment. Therefore, it is important for the employer to have updated harassment policies in place that address:

  • What constitutes inappropriate conduct;
  • Reporting mechanisms;
  • Issues of confidentiality;
  • The employer’s investigation; and
  • The imposition of remedies.

Can a Relationship with a Co-Worker Lead to Getting Fired?

Engaging in an intimate relationship with a co-worker may be grounds for termination of employment, including termination for cause, particularly when an employee violates reasonable policies and/or procedures established in the workplace. 

To this end, many workplace policies will specify that if a workplace policy is breached, there may be grounds for disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal for cause. 

Where policies are in place, courts have ruled in favour of the employer where an employee is terminated for cause as a result of failing to disclose an intimate office relationship. This is often the case where an employee’s behaviour is deemed to constitute willful misconduct, resulting from a breach of trust, integrity, and honesty.

Employees entering into a love relationship with a co-worker would be smart to see if there are any related policies. Even where a workplace does not have any such policies, it may be better to confidentially disclose the relationship to Human Resources or a superior in order to have some control over the situation.

Having said this, workplace policies should be reasonable, and employees don’t just need to accept any policy because it is the preference of the employer. There are specifically many circumstances in which an employee would be right to state that a policy is arbitrary, unfair, inconsistent with their right to be treated in good faith and/or even in certain circumstances, a violation of their human rights. 

If you are uncertain about the legal implications of a workplace relationship, whether you are an employer or employee, or whether in relation to hiring, firing, and/or wrongful dismissal, please contact Toronto employment lawyers, Sultan Lawyers, at 416-214-5111 or here.

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