People generally spend the majority of their time at work. Given this fact, it can be common for colleagues to develop relationships with each other outside of the workplace. The development of a romantic relationship between colleagues can become a difficult legal issue and a complicated workplace matter. Below, we examine the various concerns that can arise and steps an employer can take to protect themselves and their employees in similar situations.
Generally speaking, it is an accepted norm that one person in a position of authority should not engage in a romantic relationship with a subordinate. Clearly, such a context will jeopardize fairness in the issues of performance review and similar workplace assessment issues.
This issue was considered in a recent decision in which these facts led to the termination of the male manager. The facts of this case showed an actual conflict, although it is likely sufficient that the potential for conflict could justify cause for termination. In essence, this circumstance raises an issue of conflict due to the existence of the relationship. Just cause for termination was found in favour of the employer.
It Gets Complicated
A romance within a direct reporting relationship leads to an obvious conflict. What about a relationship between co-workers, or an undisclosed romance between a person in a senior management position and an employee in a position of lesser responsibility, in different departments, or in separate reporting lines?
What is really required is a clear and firm policy document that deals with the potential for these relationships to develop, and one which, at the very least, requires affirmative disclosure of the relationship to management. Ideally, this would prevent boss-subordinate relationships and, at the discretion of the company, any other romances from developing.
Human Rights Issues
This issue becomes more complex when the romance has evolved to the extent to which human rights protections enter the equation. It is a violation of human rights protections to take adverse action due to “marital status”. Indeed, a common-law relationship between colleagues has been held as sufficient to attract such protections.
If this is the factual context, then the employer is faced with the obligation of accommodating the relationship to the point of undue hardship, which most employers would regard as an unsavoury burden.
The disclosure policy will likely prohibit this situation from developing.
The View of Both Sides Now
The law on this subject is difficult. The issues may be emotional. This is a delicate issue for all parties. If you are dealing with such complicated matters, you will know that it is important to obtain legal advice from competent employment law counsel.
This is an important issue to understand for both sides. All employers should have in place a policy document to deal with this issue before problems develop. For advice on this and similar issues and, indeed, any employment issue, contact the offices of Toronto employment and labour lawyers Mallins Law. We regularly advise employees and employers on legal workplace issues. Contact us online or by phone at 647-792-0310 to schedule a consultation.