By Jemma Pugh, Solicitor, Lester Aldridge LLP
You may have seen recent press coverage by the Mail on Sunday of the latest scandal to hit the Government. Apparently, two high profile figures have been conducting an affair, leaving David Cameron 'stunned'.
We assume that there must be some type of injunction in place preventing the details from being made public; however, it does bring up some interesting issues about affairs in the workplace.
This is certainly not the first workplace affair and it undoubtedly won’t be the last. Whatever your view on the morality of such conduct, actually having an affair with a colleague is unlikely to warrant any disciplinary action unless there are specific restrictions within the organisation which ban relationships between staff. However, there are certain circumstances where an affair may be become relevant, for example:
Confidentiality is breached: Businesses will clearly always have confidential information, be it trade secrets or information about clients. Keeping this information confidential can be key to protecting the interests of the business. This could be compromised by two people, even within the same Company, sharing information which is confidential to a particular team, deal or client.
Often there are confidentiality clauses within employment contracts. By revealing confidential information, an employee is likely to be in breach of contract. This could potentially result in disciplinary action being taken against them. Depending on the seriousness of the breach, this could even amount to gross misconduct.
The business is brought into disrepute: The Mail on Sunday has alleged that David Cameron considers the love affair will lead to negative perceptions for his party. Arguably, the most important aspect of running a successful business (or political party) is a good reputation. If this is put into jeopardy by employees’ conduct, then again, this could be grounds for disciplinary action.
Behaviour at work: Inappropriately conducting an affair at work, for example unsuitable behaviour in the workplace or during working time could well result in disciplinary action being taken against the individuals involved.
Remember, as always, if you are considering taking disciplinary action against an employee, act fairly and reasonably and follow your own disciplinary policy and ACAS guidance.
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