office romance 4

Can an organisation forbid sexual relationships between staff in a Code of Conduct or policy?  Yes, but such direction is unlikely to be enforceable. Given the hours people spend in and are associated with the workplace, sexual relationships between staff will occur. Dr Verena Marshall, Senior Workplace Relations Advisor for iHR Australia states that “rather than Code or policy forbidding their existence, organisations will do better to rely on broad legal principles that parties to a sexual relationship should be over 16 years old and consenting”.

An organisation’s Code or policy can also spell out the notion of conflict of interest; for example, a situation where a staff member has a sexual interest in another staff member who is subject (along with others at work) to duty of care. Legitimate directions for staff in such situations may include zero tolerance of:

  • Sexual relationships with a vulnerable party (e.g., patient, student, client, parishioner, adult in care);
  • Using the organisation’s resources for logistics (travel, accommodation, food and beverage) to facilitate a sexual relationship; and
  • Offering advantage (e.g., promotion, job offer, pay increase) to a party in a sexual relationship, but not even-handedly to their colleagues.

If in doubt, parties should disclose the relationship.

Whilst banning such relationships is likely to be ineffective and unenforceable, organisations should seek to create policies that balance the interests of the organisation and employees. Organisations should provide clear directions for staff within a Code that acknowledge both that workplace relationships between consenting adults are inevitable and the continuing blurring of the boundary between public/private in organisational life.

Read more about iHR Australia’s appropriate workplace behaviours training and developing workplace policies and procedures.

Recent articles

Reasonable management.

What isn’t Workplace Bullying? Reasonable Management.

Article updated on 15 April 2024 [Originally published in 2017] Workplace bullying is an organisational problem. It can happen in...
Trauma informed investigations

Trauma-informed workplace investigations: Prioritising ‘care’ over rigid processes

Interviewee: Kirsten Hartmann, Senior Workplace Relations Adviser/Workplace Investigator In August 2023, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released four guiding...
Reverse bullying

Reverse Bullying is a Threat to Your Workplace Culture: Here is What it Looks Like

Article updated on 15 March 2024 [Originally published in 2020] What is reverse [or upward] bullying? Simply put, reverse bullying...

The First Tranche of the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Act 2023

Closing Loopholes Legislation Key changes taking effect from 15 December 2023 In late 2023, the Federal Government passed the first...