4.1 Process for disclosing a consensual personal relationship
Some employees may find it difficult to disclose a personal consensual relationship. There may be instances where employees feel concerned about discussing their personal life or anxious that disclosure could have a negative impact upon their career.
Employees should be reassured that all efforts will be made to keep the details of their personal consensual relationship private and confidential. Employers should advise that employee privacy will not be compromised unless other staff need to know particular details. For example, human resource personal, or a Director, may need to be manage the potential or perceived conflict of interest.
It is recognised that workplaces will have varying processes to manage disclosures in line with resourcing and structural differences. Some suggested steps that could be considered include:
- providing the option for the employee to converse regarding the situation via email as opposed to face-to-face, as they may feel more comfortable;
- having a supportive conversation to respectfully obtain the details of the consensual personal relationship necessary to manage the situation, as well as any concerns that an employee may have (this is not intended to be an exhaustive personal conversation);
- collaboratively identifying risks and their possible impacts;
- collaboratively identifying potential options to manage the conflict of interest; and
- working together to find a consensus approach to manage the conflict of interest.
It is also important to note that family members in a direct hierarchical relationship should also disclose the relationship.
4.2 What happens after a consensual personal relationship is disclosed?
Disclosure of a consensual personal relationship allows arrangements to be put in place to manage the conflict of interest. The measures taken to minimise any relationship-related risks should be determined by the employer and employee in response to the individual circumstances of the relationship and should avoid discrimination or action that unfairly impacts upon a person’s employment.
4.3 Consensual personal relationship with a direct hierarchical relationship
Where a direct hierarchical relationship exists between two people in a consensual personal relationship, a number of actions could be considered (case studies are at Appendix 1). These could include development of temporary or permanent alternative supervisory and reporting arrangements, such as:
- the subordinate employee remains in their current role, although reports to an alternative line manager;
- the subordinate employee reports directly to their manager once removed; or
- temporary or permanent changes are made to the reporting line, so that one of the employees is moved to another business unit.
With the above in mind, the following considerations should be taken into account:
- Any decision to move one of the individuals concerned should not automatically preference the senior individual and each case should be considered on its own merits.
- Any process must avoid discrimination or action that unfairly impacts upon a person’s employment and should be commensurate with the seriousness of the identified risk.
- Where an employee is moved to another business unit, they are to do so at level (with the same opportunity to shifts should they currently hold a shift worker position) and priority should be given to ensure that disruption to the workplace and the employee is minimised.
- Relocation to an alternative site should be avoided where possible. However, where required, relocation expenses are to be provided in line with the workplace agreement.
- At minimum, employers should impress upon employees that the standard prohibitions on sharing confidential work-related information apply.
- It is important that employers ensure that complaint reporting arrangements do not result in any complaints or investigations, in respect to one party to the relationship being heard/undertaken, or influenced by the other.
4.4 Consensual personal relationship without a direct hierarchical relationship
Employees without a direct hierarchical relationship are only required to confidentially disclose a consensual personal relationship where an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest cannot be appropriately avoided.
In some instances where two employees are in a relationship without a direct hierarchical relationship a perception of a conflict of interest could arise. For example, if one person has responsibility for providing approval to attend events, authorising travel, confirming office and desk locations, or professional development opportunities. In these instances employees and/or employers may consider involvement of a third party who can objectively review and moderate decisions. This would assist in mitigating the risk of any favouritism (case studies are at Appendix 1).
4.5 Risk-based approach
Any measures taken to manage consensual personal relationships in the workplace should be practicable and informed by a risk-based approach. This means measures should be:
- proportionate to the level of risk posed;
- designed to have minimal impact on the careers and personal lives of the individuals concerned; and
- compatible with anti-discrimination legislation.
For example, a risk-based approach should be taken in the instance where two people are in a consensual personal relationship within the same reporting line, but are significantly removed in terms of day-to-day operations. To illustrate this point, it is useful to consider the situation where an Executive Director, with a high number of staff dispersed over a number of offices, may be in a relationship with one of their staff with whom they have no day-to-day work contact with.
The relationship should be disclosed in this instance. However, given the low-risk of a conflict of interest, the management plan may not necessitate any active intervention. Instead, it might ensure that contact is highly limited, especially regarding work allocation and progression.
It is recognised that an instance could arise where a staff member can’t be moved or different reporting lines can’t be put into place. Should this occur an organisation should seek to reduce the conflict of interest to the greatest possible degree. This could include (but is not limited to) ensuring that work allocation or progression discussions are conducted with the advice of an independent third party.