McDonald’s have dismissed Steve Easterbrook, the organisation’s CEO for violating company policy regarding workplace relationships.

Whilst McDonald’s have taken the rare step of terminating their CEO for breaching company policy, HR Heroes urge employers to be careful about how it handles romantic relationships in the workplace.

Businesses may prefer their employees to keep their working relationships professional only, however, with the large amount of time employees spend with their colleagues it is not surprising that romantic relationships happen in the workplace.

The question then becomes; ‘How do you manage it effectively?’

Working relationships are a reality of working life so the key is to be able to balance the interests of the business with the rights of the employees to a private life.  Romantic working relationships can also create conflicts of interest, particularly if senior managers or directors of the business are involved, or if the relationship is between an employee and their direct manager.

Therefore, it is advised that employers have clear policies in place that describe the behavioural standards that are expected and the processes for the way inappropriate behaviour is handled, whilst also maintaining a zero-tolerance policy for any type of bullying or harassment.

Many organisations choose to go further by introducing specific policies that could, for example, require individuals to disclose relationships that could create a conflict of interest – for example, a relationship between a manager and a direct report.

However, it is important that any policy that is implemented must take into account the employee’s right to a private life, under the Human Rights Act as well as the right of a business to protect its interests.

Businesses must take a pragmatic approach to this and be flexible. Having rules that ensure disclosure of a romantic relationship in the workplace will allow steps to be taken to manage it appropriately and effectively. However, the reality is any policy that prevents romantic relationships between colleagues will be difficult if not impossible to enforce. Enforcement of such a policy could be seen as an infringement on the employees’ human rights.

Under English Law there is nothing ‘unlawful’ about policies that prohibit romantic working relationships or that require disclosure. Enforcing this, however, could be a completely different story.

“Attempting to ban relationships in the workplace in the UK could be very difficult to enforce when you consider the Human Rights Act.” Caroline Wood, Director of HR Heroes said.

“This issue would be – does the relationship create such a dramatic conflict of interest that it is detrimental to the business and the reality is, the vast majority of workplace relationships are not.