Office romances: Four legal consequences for HR

HR is inundated with new legislations to cope in a post-COVID world

Office romances: Four legal consequences for HR

As more organizations pivot to a permanent remote working model, complex legal issues are on the rise in Canada.

From bereavement policies to accommodation requests to unfair dismissals, HR is inundated with new legislations to cope in a post-COVID world.

That being said, there’s one timeless HR issue that’s going unchecked – office romances.

The current crisis may have eradicated the ‘traditional’ inter-colleague relationship – but that doesn’t mean HR leaders should forgo legalisation.

Read more: 'Cult or culture?': What is workplace spiritualty?

HRD spoke Michelle McKinnon, associate at law firm Harris & Company, who revealed employers’ obligations around relationship policies.

“Although an employer generally cannot prohibit romantic relationships in the workplace, or otherwise direct employees in relation to their personal relationships, an employer has a legitimate interest in managing conflicts of interest and the risks associated with sexual harassment,” explained McKinnon.

In addition to the above concerns, other legal consequences McKinnon mentioned included;

  1. Constructive dismissal complaints arising from a toxic work environment.
  2. Grievances (unionized workplaces).
  3. In addition to human rights complaints, civil claims for intentional infliction of mental distress. An employer may be held vicariously liable for the actions of its employee, in certain circumstances.
  4. In British Columbia, WorkSafeBC complaints and investigations, including claims for compensation based on a mental disorder arising from bullying and harassment.

“It is therefore advisable to have a written workplace policy governing these issues,” added McKinnon.

“A workplace policy should be clear and unambiguous, communicated to employees, and should be consistently enforced. Sexual harassment policies in particular should be drafted carefully to ensure compliance with applicable legislation.”

Read more: Federal government allots $2.5M to workplace safety

To hear more on legal issues on the rise in Canada, sign up for HRD Canada’s upcoming Employment Law Summit Vancouver here.

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