Home' HR Monthly : October 2017 Contents 6
ntimate relationships between consenting adults is now
becoming a serious concern of boards and executive
management in terms of brand and reputation protection.
The recent disclosure of consenting sexual relations between
the current CEOs of Seven West and QBE with their respective
executive assistants has generated much media commentary.
A survey conducted a few years ago by the United States
Families and Work Institute found that nearly half of adult
employees were likely to have at least one consenting sexual
relationship with a co-worker during their career. Contributing
factors in the last two decades have been the increasing female
employment participation rates, the accession to more senior
roles by women, and the long hours male and female workers
are spending on the job. All those factors improve workplace
diversity, but they also mean the workplace is now a primary
relationship search and matching venue.
Smarter companies have adopted six simple principles to deal
with the prospect. First, they accept that intimate connections
developed at work are lawful if conducted privately out of hours
and off business premises. Acceptance on those terms is usually
made publicly clear to all employees in the firm’s HR policies.
Second, organisations advise that employees who find
themselves in an intimate continuing relationship should
declare it promptly to an independent third party in the
company: their boss, the chairman or the HR manager.
Co -workers are alert to body language and signals between
intimate couples on the job, and so early disclosure makes a
great deal of sense for all concerned.
Third, early disclosure requires those notified to consider
independently the fiduciary and governance implications of the
relationship to the welfare of the organisation, and specifically to
the company’s duty to treat all employees fairly. If, for example,
the relationship is between a boss and a subordinate in the same
work group, the interests of co-workers need to be considered.
There may be a risk that last night’s prejudiced pillow talk will
affect the treatment of co-workers on the job. It’s usual for an
organisation to separate parties in the intimate relationship, into
different work groups.
Fourth, some companies include in their HR policy a
requirement that both parties declare their relationship and
immediately sign a legal waiver in favour of the employer. This
means the consenting adult co -workers must attest formally
that the employer had no responsibility in facilitating the sexual
relationship, and also that the employer takes no responsibility
for the relationship ending.
Fifth, better companies consult with co-workers potentially
affected by the existence of an intimate relationship, and
seek their views on how individual employment rights and
obligations might be affected and what bespoke remedies may
need to be put in place.
Finally, the biggest challenge of intimate connections comes
when one of the parties is the CEO. Here the separation of duties
and work groups is not possible. The CEO is the one employee
with the highest fiduciary duty and trusteeship standard to
uphold. Taking a sin-bin solution of docking the bonus, as
was the case with the Seven West and QBE CEOs, is one
approach. But whether it serves to drive a permanent
improvement to cultu re and general employee engagement
is highly questionable. In this situation, the job for the
HR director and for the board of directors is the same.
They have a responsibility to work in the best interests of
all employees, and not simply to protect the interests of the
most senior person affected in the chain of command.
In cases where consenting and hazardous
liaisons are pursued irresponsibly, the
employment of both those involved needs to
be held at risk, and where necessary, acted on
swiftly if the normal contemporary principles of
good management and sensible adult behaviour,
have been trashed. •••
Smart companies know the best way to handle workplace relationships.
BY PETER WILSON AM FCPHR AHRI CHAIRMAN
To read past Perspective columns by Peter Wilson, visit
“There may be a risk that
last night’s prejudiced
pillow talk will affect the
treatment of co-workers
on the job.”
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