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Nudes, Nasties & Nepotism – Is Your Workplace Protected?

By Tim Dive – Senior IR/HR Consultant 

What do you think when I mention “relationships” in the workplace? Does your mind wander off to the broom closet, picturing a few suspect employees enjoying each other’s presence by candlelight?

Keep reading and you’ll see this is absolutely not the point of a Relationship Policy, but you’ll cringe at some of the HR horror stories we’ve encountered over the years that a Relationship Policy will help to counteract.

Some real-life scenarios include:

Young guys and girls sending each other nudes after a hard day at the warehouse, and managers with glass walls and doors having casual “relations” with staff – all in the eye line of intrigued customers.

Seriously, you should see some of the images on our internal Drive after running the workplace investigations…. ***shivers run down my spine…..

So, it’s obvious the word “relationship” mainly triggers an assumption of romance in the workplace but, it’s only a small piece of the relationship matrix. There are far deeper concerns to consider when relationships (romantic, friendly, family) exist in your business.

Here are three real-life scenarios where relationships caused damage to a business.

Fraud and Conflict of Interest

I once worked remotely, at a mining operation that existed for more than forty years. Combine the remote and small town vibe with four decades of family members, schoolmates, cousins and extended relatives joining the workforce, and you’ll tend to face a culture geared towards workers looking after each other’s interests.

That many relationships going unchecked will compromise the control a business owner has over their operations. SMEs have a far better chance at controlling relationships in their teams, but very rarely pay any attention to the matter, leaving them exposed to major risks.

In a single year, and through the actions of a single person, the company lost over $150,000 through bogus contracts and work scopes given to friends and relatives that could have been completed by employees. This was fraud and gross misconduct.

Sexual Harassment and Bullying Claims

A medium sized business I worked with employed a young couple and allowed them to work in different teams within the business. Quite quickly, things turned sour between the two and a few confrontations started to occur.

These arguments weren’t during work time. They’d leave the premises together and argue over issues while they were parting ways. Unfortunately, not all staff were aware of the relationship between the two, so suspicions and rumours of sexual misadventures or harassment started to brew.

The sexual harassment claims weren’t raised by either of the couple, but it certainly caused a riff between the small workforce. The male in the couple began to experience isolation and unfriendly remarks by a number of personnel, and he raised concerns of being bullied and harassed – opening up a risky situation for management to handle.

Relationship-Related Complaints Leading to Fair Work Claims

When a Manager is responsible for allocating responsibilities, recruiting or providing project opportunities to staff, employees are very critical of how those decisions are made. Add a relative, lover, partner or friend to that team will instantly peak the suspicions of all other staff members.

Where you’re allowing family members and friends to be managed and supervised by other relatives or friends, your other employees will be critical, and can easily form a view of unfair treatment or being disadvantaged by a particular manager, or you (the business owner).

To conclude:

Hiring friends and relatives of employees is not a bad thing. The risk around the practice, though, is that these relationships in your workplace are not only “work-based”. There are so many external factors that can influence how healthy these relationships stay, long-term.

Relationships in the workplace are not limited to romantic connections and are more common than you may think. Everybody has worked in an organisation where a cousin, son, daughter, wife, husband, schoolmate, family friend or other relative has also been employed. Yet, we tend to exclude these relationships when considering the risk to our business.

Implementing a Relationships policy in your workplace will help ensure:

  • You’re aware of the nature of relationships, and can somewhat limit high-risk scenarios in your business;
  • You can plan work teams and projects so relationships won’t interfere with high performance;
  • You can remove risk of nepotism, favouritism and perceptions of unfair treatment; and
  • You can control matters in the workplace that may otherwise land you in the Fair Work Commission, or the Human Rights Commission.

Reach out for some advice if you can foresee potential risks that may be mitigated with a simple Relationships policy.


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