Love may have been in the air this month, but not in the Terry household or the England dressing room. England footballer John Terry's behaviour has certainly caused a stir across the country. Married and the father of twins, Terry is alleged to have had an affair with Vanessa Perroncel. The controversy sparks from the fact that Ms Perroncel is the ex-partner of Terry's team mate, Wayne Bridge, and mother to his young son.

As you are no doubt aware, there is a football competition to be held in South Africa this summer whereby it is extremely important that England are on top form. England's manager, Fabio Capello, took the decision that John Terry could no longer be England captain after his behaviour off the pitch. Dressing room bust ups and divisions amongst the team were no doubt at the forefront of Capello's mind when he took the difficult decision.

So how would a scenario like this pan out in the office?

It is worth looking at a few scenarios:

A manager has an affair with a junior employee

The first thing to do is to investigate the situation to determine the extent of the problem. For example, if the manager is in charge of carrying out the junior employee's appraisal then there is an obvious issue and the company would need to consider whether anyone else could carry out the appraisal. What is the impact on the rest of the team? Are there morale issues as a result of the affair? Accusations of favouritism? It may be appropriate to have an informal chat initially with those involved and to make it clear that it is important to maintain professionalism in the office. Explain the concerns that the company may have.

After investigation, if it becomes obvious that there is no solution to the parties working together then it may be appropriate to move one of the employees. It should not automatically be assumed that the more junior employee should be moved. There must be objective business reasons for moving the employee in order to reduce the chance of any discrimination allegations (for example, age, sex discrimination).

An employee has an affair with an employee from another department

This situation is usually less complicated and can be resolved quite easily. In most situations where there is a 'cross-office affair' it will not be necessary for the employer to get involved. However, if there is a concern that there is going to be an impact on the business then it may be appropriate to have an informal chat with the employees to remind them that professional behaviour is expected in the office.

Essentially the question to ask is what will be the effect on the business? How involved are the two departments? Would there be any negative impact on the business?

Two employees are caught in a compromising position in the photocopying room after an office night out

This type of behaviour is obviously inappropriate and should be dealt with as a matter of misconduct. The matter should be investigated and disciplinary proceedings should be considered. A clear message should be sent out to staff that this type of conduct will not be tolerated.

Can't we just ban workplace romances?

Well, you can try .... but it is unlikely to be a successful policy. Unfortunately, human nature is not so easily controlled and so having effective procedures and policies in place is a more sensible approach. It is also worth remembering that a large number of people meet their partner/spouse through work. Clear guidance should be provided to staff as to what standards of behaviour are expected should a workplace romance begin and whether the employees are under a duty to notify the employer of a workplace romance. Consideration should be given to potential risks where the company would be exposed, for example, is there any conflict of interest as a result of the two employees being in a relationship? Could there be a breach of confidence as a result of the relationship?

When it all goes wrong

When the business is damaged by the workplace romance, what action can the company take?

Picture this .... a married CEO of a well known Plc is caught in a compromising position with a Page 3 girl. The press get hold of the story and the CEO is mocked relentlessly for his behaviour, thus bringing the company into disrepute. In this situation, the company may well have cause to bring the CEO's employment to an end.

In the CEO's position, he has an elevated role which includes promoting the image of the company and managing others. Undoubtedly these functions are damaged by his indiscretion in this scenario. Arguably, the company will have lost trust and confidence in their employee.

It is important for the company to balance commercial factors with precedent setting. If the CEO was performing well in his role, there would be an obvious reluctance to let him go. Business factors are inevitably an important consideration for the company, however, the company must also remember the message which is being sent to the rest of the workforce, customers and suppliers. If the public face of the company is in disrepute, the damage to the business can be extensive.

Action

  • As far as possible, ensure there is consistent treatment.
  • Before transferring an employee, ensure you can objectively justify the transfer.
  • Encourage openness of staff with regard to disclosing workplace romances. Openness will be encouraged by dealing with any disclosure sensibly and by not overreacting.
  • Where necessary, deal with inappropriate behaviour using the disciplinary procedure.