Ken Burgin

Love Problems at Work: Is Your Restaurant at Risk?

Many people found a partner where they worked, and we need more happy relationships in this industry, not less!

But in the steamy, late-night world of hospitality, love and lust often flourish and they can cause problems. Legally, it could be regarded as discriminatory to say ‘no relationships between staff’, but clear rules need to be in place to avoid disruption.

Harassment and discrimination. Your duty of care for staff means you should make sure both parties in a workplace relationship have chosen it freely and willingly. Interview them separately to check. But blanket rules banning relationships could fall foul of local anti-discrimination laws – check with your legal advisers.

Conflict of interest. Relationships between senior staff and those who work for them could easily result in a conflict of interest. Anything involving salary reviews, promotion or work allocation may need someone else involved. The onus is on the senior person to show that they are not favouring one party over another. Transfer to another department will simplify matters, but that may not be possible.

Discussion of Sexual Health and Pregnancy. Casual sex can lead to unwanted results. It’s more openly discussed now, and becomes prime-time news if things go wrong. What information is appropriate to display in your staff area? To have no mention of this at all seems short-sighted.

Online Dating and Website Access. This should be covered in your general policy on computer access: keeping up to date on who’s available and other ‘hot’ issues should be done at home, not work. How will you monitor and enforce this? You need Guidelines for Staff on the Use of Social Media – a tough one to keep on top of.

Decreased Performance. When relationships break up, the drama can be very disruptive… for the business. One cafe owner mentioned how she lost two good staff, both of whom were great performers before they formed a relationship, but their work deteriorated badly after they split. Her rule now is ‘No fishing from the company wharf’!

A decline in performance could lead to warnings and even termination – let’s hope that doesn’t happen but if you mention this possibility in your interview with the new lovers, you help to protect yourself from allegations of harshness.

Public Behaviour. The public don’t want to see staff making out together, and maybe neither do their colleagues. They also don’t want to hear the steamy details of a young punk or princess’s love life. Cover this in your general rules about staff modesty and acceptable behaviour. Your policy might start with something like:

‘All staff have the right to a happy, loving and supportive relationships. However, if you form a relationship with a person working here, there are several issues you need to be aware of etc… (then repeat relevant issues from the above).’

Boys & Girls, Girls & Girls, Boys & Boys – gay, bi and lesbian relationships are now openly accepted by most staff and customers, but there may be pushback from some people on religious grounds. You’ll need to make sure local Anti-Discrimination Laws are understood and followed.

Check Your Legal Right to Direct Staff Behaviour. As you can see from the above, it’s a complex issue with personal, management and legal implications around areas of privacy, discrimination and moral judgements. Make sure you discuss your plans and policies with your legal advisor. Industry associations usually have excellent experience in this area.

There’s no escaping this – it’s called human nature! Take a stand, be fair, and make sure all your policies are in writing.