A recent decision of the Fair Work Commission could
have serious implications for employees engaging in 'workplace
It has traditionally been a very sensitive and private subject,
but according to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) employers need to
seriously consider disclosure policies for workplace romances
Office relationships are something in which a large number of
employers are faced with, given the amount of time we spend at
work. While office romances are not uncommon, the parties involved
need to take reasonable measures to ensure their work or the
business is not adversely affected.
The FWC's recent decision, in M v Westpac Banking
Corporation, to reject the unfair dismissal application of a
Westpac manager who failed to disclose an office affair with his
subordinate employee, is a case in point for anyone failing to
disclose an office relationship.
In situations where a manager forms a relationship with a
subordinate, especially where the manager directly supervises the
subordinate, the FWC is of the view that such relationships have
the potential to create conflicts of interest.
What should HR Managers do?
While it would be difficult for employers to enforce a strict
'no relationship policy', all HR Managers should definitely
have concrete restrictions and disclosure policies in place.
FWC's decision calls for consideration of the following key
a 'Conflict of Interest Policy' that prevents conflicts
of interest between managers and subordinates and provides for a
solution, for example to reassign one of the employees should a
a 'Disclosure Policy' that obliges those involved in an
office romance to disclose their relationship to HR so that steps
can be taken to ensure there is no potential conflict of
ensuring that policies on relationships in the office are clear
to all staff; and
ensuring supervisors are properly trained to effectively
supervise and manage their work relationships with
Dealing with workplace relationships: guidelines for HR
However, having a disclosure policy will not guarantee that
everyone will abide by it.
Businesses also need a Workplace Relationship policy that
outlines steps that will be taken when relationships are not openly
disclosed. HR Managers need to ensure that theirDisclosure and
Workplace Relationship policies expressly states that disciplinary
actions, including dismissal, may be taken where an employee fails
to openly and adequately disclose an office relationship,
particularly where the relationship has the potential to create
conflicts of interest.
How should it be disclosed?
Office relationship disclosure should be a confidential
conversation between the employee and HR Manager, who would then
decide whether any necessary changes need to be made in order to
minimise risk of any relationship-related problems.
Employees should be prepared to show that the relationship will
not influence their work or the business.
What should HR Managers put in place?
To ensure the business is not adversely affected by workplace
relationships, HR Managers should:
implement a Disclosure policy or contractual requirement that
expressly states that disciplinary action may be taken, including
dismissal, where an employee fails to openly disclose an office
ensure all employees are made aware of their responsibilities
under the Disclosure and Workplace Relationship policies, and their
obligations to disclose office relationships to the HR
(M v Westpac Banking Corporation  FWC 2087 (15
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.Madgwicks is a member
of Meritas, one of the world's largest law firm
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An employee that refused a reasonable offer of settlement was ordered by the FWC to pay his ex-employer's legal costs.
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