Is it OK to ban all workplace relationships, particularly when we spend so much time at work and this is the place lots of couples meet? Is the pendulum of the #metoo movement potentially swinging too far and influencing decisions?
The ex-CEO of McDonalds might say so. Steve Easterbrook resigned earlier this month following his admission that he was having a consensual relationship with a junior manager. Mr Easterbrook has also stepped down from Walmart’s board. The McDonald’s board said that Mr Easterbrook had “demonstrated poor judgement” and violated company policy regarding relationships between employees.
Is it a step too far from employers to ban workplace relationships altogether? Should employers be concerning themselves with consensual relationships in the workplace? After all, #metoo is about non-consensual actions by individuals exerting their power and influence to exploit those in subordinate positions.
In most cases workplace relationships will not create any issues for employers, but there can be risks when they involve managers and subordinates. Not only are there possible conflicts of interest and a perception of favouritism, but there is the risk of harassment and retaliation should the relationship end badly.
Banning all workplace relationships feels excessive and is difficult to police. However, employers should be clear on their policy and consistent in how they enforce it to ensure that all employees are treated equally and fairly. Otherwise they face potential claims for discrimination which are not only costly but potentially damaging to the company’s reputation.
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