This Morning scandal: who can you sleep with at work?

6 Jun 2023
by Sharma Solicitors
Relationships at work

The Phillip Schofield saga has plot twists, new characters and millions of viewers, but what about romance at your workplace?

There may be lots more to the ITV vs Schofield story, but it does raise questions about office love affairs. It would be good if both employers and employees knew where they stand.

Afterall, work is a popular place to find love and one in five married couples meet there. But workplace romance can also go wrong. PR disasters aside, there are potential conflict of interests, disgruntled colleagues with perceptions of favouritism.

Employment law advice

There are no specific employment laws about consensual sexual relationships at work. There are laws against ‘harassment’ at work. The law prohibits colleagues engaging in unwanted sexual conduct and discriminating against a person who rejects such conduct.

Of course, an employer has the right to terminate an employee who has not worked continuously for two years and therefore has not gained employment rights. So, long as an employer does not discriminate and breach the Equality Act, and there is no special provision in the employment contract, an employment tribunal hearing is unlikely.

Employment contracts

There are two other potential ways of dealing with problematic office love – employment policies and the employment contract.

In the US, many companies ask employees to sign a ‘love contract’. Usually, this is where employees make an agreement saying that if they have a relationship, it is consensual and that they understand the existing sexual harassment policy. In the UK, such a ‘contract’ will be unenforceable in an employment tribunal.

Office policy

How about an employment policy that asks staff to disclose their relationships with each other? This transparency means that an employer can work around possible conflicts of interest, and change line management responsibilities if necessary. It is still a delicate issue – if a woman, or a person with another ‘personal characteristic’, is transferred from their role, they may be able to claim discrimination.

Introducing a robust personal relationships policy could help to prevent problems in the future, particularly if you have a growing workforce. This can detail expected standards of behaviour, including physical intimacy, appropriate communication and remaining professional when a relationship ends. If this is part of the employment contract, then anyone ignoring or breaking those rules can be disciplined in the usual way.

This should help to keep the workplace fair, safe and healthy for everyone – those in the romantic relationship and the colleagues around them.

The Phillip Schofield saga may be more of a PR than HR issue but nonetheless, the advice of a specialist employment solicitor may be more useful than pages and pages of news story scandals.


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