When couples or family members are in a reporting relationship issues can arise regarding favouritism, or the appearance of favouratism, which can be damaging to the working environment.
Some workplaces have policies in place to manage this, which usually provide for changes to the working conditions of one of the employees involved (eg. change in reporting line, additional reporting or transfer). In the recent case of Faulkner v The Chief Constable of Hampshire Constabulary, the EAT looked at whether an employer can justify having such a policy in the context of a discrimination claim.
The Claimant (a Police Constable) was in a relationship with her line manager, a Police Sergent at the same station.
The Constabulary had a policy providing that partners should not have supervisor/subordinate roles. The rationale for the policy was also set out in the policy itself, i.e. favouritisim regarding rotas and holidays, risk in dangerous situations etc.
In applying the policy, the Constabulary had required the Claimant to move between stations for periods, give up her authorised firearms officer status for periods and had prevented her from “acting up”.
The Claimant alleged that this policy indirectly discriminated against her on the grounds of her sex.
The EAT upheld the Tribunal’s decision that the policy was justified in the circumstances.
To show justification, the policy had to be in response to a “real need” from the employer, and had to be appropriate and necessary to achieve the objectives sought. The principle of proportionality also needed to be applied.
The Tribunal held that while the Claimant had suffered a detriment, (moving offices, giving up her firearms status and not acting up) the policy was reasonable and had been put in place to manage the negative effects of having couples or family in a reporting relationship. In this regard, it was helpful that the rationale behind the policy was set out in the policy itself.
The Tribunal also found that the discriminatory effect of the policy was outweighed by the objective need for such a policy.
What this means for employers
This case assists employers in setting out policies in respect of couples or family who are in a reporting relationship.
In particular, it is important to consider the adverse consequences which can result from couples or family being in a reporting relationship and look at how those consequences can be eliminated or minimised in a manner which affects the relevant employees as little as possible.
Policies which are developed and applied along those guidelines are likely to be justified if an employee complains that the application of the policy is discriminatory.