Workplace romance can be a tricky topic for employers to navigate. On the one hand, it’s natural for people to develop romantic feelings for their co-workers, especially when they spend so much time together. On the other hand, workplace romances can lead to all sorts of problems, from decreased productivity and morale to harassment claims and lawsuits.
In this blog, we’ll explore what Canadian employers need to know about romance in the workplace and the risks associated with it.
1. Understand the legal landscape
There are no established laws in Canada that forbid romantic workplace relationships. However, under Canadian law, employers have a duty to provide a workplace free from harassment and discrimination.
This means that if a workplace romance turns sour, and one party feels harassed or discriminated against as a result, the employer could be held liable. It’s important for employers to have policies in place that address workplace relationships and make it clear that any inappropriate behaviour, such as unwanted advances or sexual harassment, will not be tolerated.
2. Consider implementing a workplace romance policy
One way to address workplace relationships is to implement a workplace romance policy. Such a policy can outline what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to workplace romances, such as whether or not relationships between supervisors and subordinates are allowed (employers are advised to consider the power differential and avoid it wherever possible), and what the consequences will be for violating the policy. The policy should also make it clear that employees have the right to report any inappropriate behaviour without fear of retaliation.
3. Educate employees about risks
It’s important for employers to educate their employees about the potential risks of workplace romances. This can include training on what constitutes sexual harassment and how to report it, as well as how to maintain a professional relationship with a co-worker even if there are romantic feelings involved.
4. Handle conflicts of interest
If an employee is involved in a workplace romance, it’s important to be aware of any potential conflicts of interest that may arise. For example, if one party is the other’s supervisor, it could create an unfair advantage or disadvantage. Employers may need to consider reassigning duties or even separating the parties to different departments or locations.
5. Be prepared for the worst
Even with policies in place, workplace romances can still go wrong, and their heartbreak could be your headache before you know it. Employers need to be prepared to handle the fallout if a relationship ends badly, including potential harassment or discrimination claims. It’s important to have a plan in place for dealing with these situations, including a clear reporting process and a plan for investigating any claims.
6. Terminating an employee for being in a romantic work relationship
Terminating the employees involved in a workplace romance can be a difficult decision for employers to make, especially if the relationship is consensual and not causing any issues in the workplace. However, in some cases, terminating the employees involved may be the best course of action.
It’s important to note that in Canada, since employees can generally be terminated without cause at any time for any reason in most jurisdictions (as long as the reason is not discriminatory), employers have the right to terminate their employees for engaging in a romantic relationship if they so choose.
However, before taking such a drastic step, employers should consult with legal counsel to ensure that they are not exposing themselves to potential claims of discrimination or harassment. Employers must also consider the potential impact on the workplace environment, including how the termination may impact productivity and morale. Ultimately, it’s essential to handle such situations with sensitivity and care, and to ensure that all employees are treated fairly and equitably.
Workplace romances can be a tricky topic to navigate for Canadian employers. By understanding the legal landscape, implementing a workplace romance policy, educating employees, handling conflicts of interest, and being prepared for the worst, employers can reduce the potential risks of workplace relationships and continue to maintain a professional and productive workplace environment.
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