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Personal Relationships at Work | HR Implications & Policy

Posted: 16/06/20 by HR Solutions

Personal Relationships at Work | HR Implications & Policy

In a modern world, where we all spend a lot of time at work and with our colleagues, there is a growing trend of personal or intimate relationships developing. Personal relationships include family relationships, sexual relationships, very close friendships, and close business, commercial and financial.

It is generally regarded as unrealistic and too much of an interference with an employee’s right to a private life to place a total ban on personal relationships at work and so it is encouraged that employees and employers accept that personal relationships at work are normal.

This hot topic looks at the implications of when these relations overspill into the workplace, as well as exploring the need for a Workplace Relationship policy in order that a company can be clear on their stance.

Benefits of personal relationships in the workplace

Quite often, close personal relationships cause no problems at all for an organisation. In fact, they can bring many benefits. For example:

• Greater commitment towards the business, due to their increased personal interest in its success
• Wider business knowledge attained, as the people involved discuss their roles and daily issues with each other
• Easing recruitment search and reducing cost by introducing a partner or family member to the business (as part of a fair and consistent selection process)
• Often recommendations from existing staff will be of people who are like-minded and more likely to fit into your culture quickly
• Reduced costs for couples, such as relocation or family private medical insurance
• Helping make you a visible local employer of choice, by recruiting people from the same locality.

Challenges of personal relationships in the workplace

There can be several challenges that arise out of personal relationships in the workplace if not managed appropriately and which could have a detrimental impact on the business.

There can be some cases where personal relationships can result in a situation becoming untenable, particularly if a relationship turns sour or, for example where one person is responsible for managing, appraising and remunerating the other.

Conflict of interest

This is where an employee’s personal relationship with another close business or commercial interest conflicts with the professional interest that they owe to their employer. Most common examples of this are those employees who have their own business on the side; or hold second jobs with other employers.

Subjective and unfair recruitment decisions

Personal relationships could, if not managed properly lead, to subjective and unfair recruitment decisions. It is recommended that if an employee involved in any recruitment activity has a close personal or family relationship with a candidate, then it would normally be appropriate for them to step away from the recruitment process and have no further involvement.

Preferential and inconsistent treatment of employees

If two employees who have a personal relationship and are in the same team or department, then consideration should be given to the impact or perceived impact the relationship will have on other team members and working practices. This is especially important where one reports into the other.

For instance, consider how annual leave requests are managed; how shift patterns are operated as well as other sign off processes, such as expenses. You do not want claims of actual or perceived preferential treatment.

Confidential breaches

Consider confidentiality; personal relationships if not managed appropriately could lead an abuse of an employee’s position of trust and confidentiality. Those who have personal relationships should not work together in any circumstance whereby a breach of confidentiality may be gained from the overlap of personal and professional relationships.

Inappropriate behaviours

Each workplace will have their own set of rules and standards for how people should behave whilst at work. Unfortunately, there are occasions where personal relationships turn sour and the impact of this can cross over into the workplace and the wrong behaviours are displayed by either one or both parties.

Bullying and Harassment

There can be some cases where personal relationships result in a situation becoming untenable, particularly if a relationship turns sour, and one very serious consequence is when it leads to bullying and harassment in the workplace.

For example, an employee has been coerced into a relationship against their will, or where unwanted personal contact with an individual after a relationship has ended. Both are regarded as harassment.

Bullying includes unwanted physical contact or assault but also verbal bullying such as insulting or threatening comments. Comments intended to undermine, belittle, embarrass, or humiliate.


Where you have personal relationships turn sour and in turn leads to one of the parties acting inappropriately towards the other at work, you risk a grievance being raised.

Equally, where an employer has introduced measures to address any conflict between parties who have a personal relationship but have done so in an unfair or discriminatory manner, then this too can lead to grievances.

Practical measures for managing personal relationships

With several challenges that can arise from personal relationships in the workplace, it is important to consider what measures the business should take in addressing any potential risk.

Any practical step you take to manage personal relationships at work should be fair and reasonable and not discriminate on the grounds of a protected characteristic (gender, marital status for example). Here are some measures you can consider having in place:

• Consider introducing an employee declaration form where you ask job applicants to declare any personal relationship. This is about enabling the organisation to take reasonable and appropriate steps on appointment to safeguard the business, and should not be a bar to employment
• Require the existing workforce to report any personal relationships. Again, this is to enable the organisation to take reasonable and appropriate steps in the workplace to manage the personal relationship at work
• Those employees involved in recruitment who have a personal relationship with a job candidate (internal or external) should not be involved in the selection process
• When an employee notifies you of a personal relationship, meet with them to consider the impact the relationship may cause within the working environment and any resulting risk or conflict of interest. Agree appropriate measures to address where necessary
• If two employees with a personal relationship are in the same team, meet with both to consider the impact, or perceived impact the relationship will have on their colleagues and identify any measures that may need to be introduced to address any resulting issues
• Where a personal relationship exists between a manager and an employee consider an alternative line manager or consider transferring one of the employees to a suitable alternative role, following discussion with both. In doing so, any transfers would need to be done so sensitively and carefully so to not discriminate on grounds of gender, or any other protected characteristic
• If moving an employee to an alternative role, then consider additional measures that can be introduced to safeguard the business
• If you capture data regarding personal relationships at work be sure that you have genuine need to do so and the purpose of it is enable you to identify and manage measures that are being put in place to mitigate risk. The data stored will be personal data and must be kept strictly private and confidential with only those who requires access to it for the purpose of administering it and managing risk. Be aware that this data would also be disclosable should you receive a subject access request from the data subject.

For HR guidance on the topics listed below, read the full article at

• Can an Employer act under their disciplinary policy?
• Legal Considerations
• Having a Policy
• Why Have a Policy?
• What to Include in a Policy?

Further HR Guidance

• Webinar Recording: you can watch the recent webinar recording, ‘Personal Relationships at Work’, on demand.

• HR Knowledge Base: this online portal is the go-to resource for thousands of business owners and managers across the UK. The HR Knowledge Base includes HR documents, templates, legal updates, news and hot topic articles as well as access to free webinars and HR seminars. To find out more call 0844 324 5840 or visit

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