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Are you allowed to intervene in intimate relationships between employees?

by , 23 July 2013
Your employees have a constitutional right to privacy. You can't expect them to 'check their privacy at the door' when they enter your workplace. But what about intimate relationships between your employees? Do they still fall within the private realm? Read on to find out whether or not you should intervene.

Imagine the following scenario:

Two employees in a superior/subordinate position in your company develop an intimate relationship.

Does intervening in this relationship constitute a breach in your employee's right to privacy?

No, it doesn't

You must remember that when relationships merge the social and economic realm, the right to privacy is diluted, says the Labour Law for Managers Loose Leaf Service.

Not all personal relationships will have an adverse impact on the working environment. It's only when the relationship has an adverse effect on the operation of your business that you may be allowed to intervene and take certain disciplinary steps.

Let's go through the two common scenarios and outline what steps you can take for each…

You may intervene in intimate relationships between your employees under these conditions:

Scenario 1: An employee has an affair with the CEO's wife

In this situation you can take steps against the offending employee because his actions could cause incompatibility in the workplace.

(Incompatibility is the inability of an employee to work in harmony within the corporate culture of the business or with fellow employees.)

Scenario 2: Co-workers become intimately involved

In this situation there would be no reason to intervene. If the relationship impacts on the working environment, however, you may have the right to take action.

For example, the employees may behave inappropriately at work, or personal conflict could flow over into the workplace.

Here you don't have the right to expect the employees to end their relationship, even where it has a negative impact on the workplace. This would be an invasion of privacy.

If you can use less restrictive means to maintain discipline and protect your interests, you should do so.

In the example above, you could resort to disciplinary action. You could charge the employees with misconduct if there's a rule prohibiting inappropriate and intimate conduct in the workplace.

Remember, you're only interested in the manifestation of the relationship in the workplace. Improper conduct may justify disciplinary action but expecting employees to end a relationship would be an invasion of privacy.

Knowing whether or not you should intervene when your employees start an intimate relationship will ensure you don't breach their right to privacy.

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