While having a relationship with a colleague is not in itself enough to result in disciplinary action being taken against an employee, there are certain situations to be extremely careful of. 

Many employees might feel that what they get up to in their private life is not any concern of their employer.  That is true, provided that the employees’ personal affairs do not impact negatively on their performance at work, or on the operations of the business.  

When an office romance develops between two employees without causing any problems, it is likely that nothing will happen.  However, if an office romance is impacting negatively on the amount, or quality, of work an employee or employees are getting through, it may become an issue for the employer. 

An employer can take disciplinary action against an employee if they are not meeting reasonable expectations in terms of their output. Learn more about accusations or poor performance and Unfair dismissal. 

If the workplace relationship is an affair that is discovered, or the workplace relationship ends badly, it can cause serious disruption for all involved (and even those who are not directly involved). 

For instance, the previously involved employees may not want to work together anymore.  An employer could be asked to shuffle teams around, if the workplace can accommodate that, in order to keep everyone happy.  If it is a smaller workplace that cannot accommodate separate work areas or times, the only option might be for one, or both, employees to move on. 

Gossip and rumours might also result in unpleasant consequences for the employees who are involved, including damaged reputations and awkward or strained relationships at, and outside of, work. 

Another situation to be extremely careful of is where one employee is in a more senior position than the other employee in the romance.  Without the senior person realising it, the vulnerable person might feel pressure to do things they do not actually want to do. 

Unwanted advances could result in accusations of sexual harassment, even if the more senior person has no idea that the attention is unwanted. 

The fallout that results from accusations of sexual harassment is extremely unpleasant for all involved, and can lead to some serious consequences, including dismissal.  An employee can also raise a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. 

Another situation to stay clear of is engaging in inappropriate displays of affection in the workspace.  It is very likely that parties who are caught in this type of situation will face disciplinary action, which could include dismissal. 

In each case, any accusations of misconduct will need to be investigated and dealt with fairly.  Failure to follow a fair process, even if there is good cause for dismissal, could result in an employee raising a personal grievance

Leading law firms committed to helping clients cost-effectively will have a range of fixed-priced Initial Consultations to suit most people’s needs in quickly learning what their options are.  At Rainey Collins we have an experienced employment law team who can answer your questions and put you on the right track.