One of our Managers is a ‘bit of a lad’ in that his team are predominantly female and he seems to regard the young attractive ones as ‘potential girlfriends’. It has now got to the stage that we have had a complaint from the parents of a 17 year old who he recruited and then developed a relationship with. We have argued that she is ‘over-age’ and that these things happen, however . We are a little uncomfortable however, he is now in his early thirties and ought to know better.

Peter replies:

A recent survey by Adzuna reported that 66% of British employees have been romantically involved with a colleague. Indeed most people know someone who met their partner/spouse at work. Trying to ban all relationships is not realistic but employers do have an obligation to ensure that Managers, or all those involved in recruitment, do not abuse the power that they possess. A BBC survey in November 2017 found that 40 per cent of women and 18 per cent of men had experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace. The growth of the #’MeToo’ movement was fuelled by the revelations/allegations against Harvey Weinstein and his infamous casting couch. Organisations can ill afford the negative publicity involved in such cases let alone the negative effects such actions can have on morale and staff retention.

The legal risks of his behaviour are considerable. The fact that the female employee is over the age of sexual consent does not make her an adult and her parents (and her) can complain about his actions and expect you to take action. She may have consented to the relationship but she can argue that she was in a weak economic and legal position and only consented because of fears for her job security, even if he did not make such threats. The risk of a sex discrimination claim is high unless you deal with this man effectively.

You should either suspend him with pay or transfer him to another site where he can be effectively monitored. You need to compile witness statements and then decide whether the evidence is such to justify taking disciplinary action. Ex employees may need to be interviewed. Someone then needs to hold a disciplinary meeting to review the evidence and decide what (if anything) he is guilty of. Having done that a decision needs to be made about appropriate disciplinary action, which at the very least is likely to be a final written warning, if he is convincing in understanding the error of his ways and undertakes to behave himself. If he remains as an employee he should be moved to another site and closely monitored, although you should be asking his boss why he allowed this situation to develop as it did, as there was an obvious pattern of sexual predatory behaviour. You also need to review your policies and properly train your managers in equality and dignity at work issues. Last year we introduced relationships policies into our client’s handbooks to attempt to educate employees (and some employers) about not abusing the rights and dignity of others at work.

It seems that he has a very poor concept of maintaining workplace boundaries, which are essential to maintain dignity at work. Setting boundaries helps to create healthy relationships at work. We will be covering boundaries as part of our course on Effective Working Relationships.

The guidance provided in this article is just that – guidance. Before taking any action make sure that you know what you are doing, or call us for specific advice.