Two members of our shopfloor team have recently started a relationship with each other. In theory, we have no problem with this – what they do in their own time is none of our business. However, we are worried that their blossoming love may lead to them being distracted at work or causing disruption as the inevitable gossip spreads. If their work was to suffer as a result of their relationship, what legally can we do to get them back on track?

Many relationships start at work, which is unsurprising given the amount of time most people spend there. However, romances between staff members can create a distraction in the workplace, as well as having the potential to create feelings of awkwardness and resentment amongst other colleagues.

Some employers attempt to regulate the private lives of their employees by prohibiting personal relationships at work, but, in our opinion, such policies are not advisable given the potential for allegations of discrimination and the failure to respect employees’ rights to privacy and family life.

In our experience, appropriately drafted employment contracts provide sufficient guidance for employees to act in the best interests of the business and to have respect for other colleagues. If an employee is under-performing this could be addressed through performance management, or by disciplinary procedure if necessary. It would be essential to carry out a proper investigation into the matter first to ensure that the source of the poor performance is the workplace relationship and there are no other mitigating factors.
Following this, it may be appropriate to put some “safeguards” in place to minimise distraction – could a transfer to another department or office be an option?

Requiring one member of the couple to work in a different department or to report to a different manager, depending on the structure of the business, could address any concerns you may have surrounding the relationship.

The shopfloor manager at our manufacturing site has recently had his second child. After the first, which was born three years ago, he took two weeks’ statutory leave, while his wife took nine months of maternity leave before returning to work.
However, for this child, he has asked to split the time off more equally between them, as his wife is keen to return to work as soon as possible. We’re a bit confused about what he can do – how long can he take off for paternity leave, and what do we pay him? Does his relatively senior job position affect this?

The law has recently changed, allowing parents to take shared parental leave (SPL).Whereas previously the allowance was limited to up
to two weeks' paternity leave and up to a year of maternity leave separately. Provided the father gives at least eight weeks’ notice and complies with other requirements, he can take up to the balance of the mother’s maternity leave, if she is returning to work.
The shopfloor manager’s entitlement to pay depends on what proportion of the maternity leave would be “left over” after the mother has returned to work.

If the mother returns prior to the 39th week of Statutory Maternity Pay, the father will be entitled to SPL pay for each week up to the 39th week. This is paid at the SPL pay rate – currently £140.98 per week

A year ago, we had to dismiss a member of staff for making abusive comments towards senior management on a company away-day. The break-up wasn’t particularly amicable, and she took us to a tribunal, which was eventually settled. We thought the problem had passed, but she’s recently joined our main competitor and has been bad-mouthing us to her new colleagues, on social media and, most worryingly, to our customers. Can we take out an injunction against her? If yes, what are our options? If no, what can we do instead to get her to stop making unfounded comments?

The first step would be to refer to the settlement agreement to check whether it contains a clause preventing the ex-employee from making adverse or derogatory comments about the company and its directors or employees.

If so, this would mean the former employee could be in breach of contract. It is usual, but not obligatory for parties to agree that the terms of any out-of-court settlement are to be kept confidential. If the negative comments refer to the dismissal and the former employee is revealing the terms of the settlement, she may also be in breach of a confidentiality clause.

An injunction is a way for the Court to stop somebody from taking a particular action and may be the best option in this instance.
An injunction may be awarded if the Court can see evidence that there is a need to prevent your former employee from breaching the terms of the settlement agreement.

If your former employee is making negative statements about your business in general, but does not refer to the settlement agreement, then an injunction is still possible, but it would be necessary to persuade the Court that the comments are defamatory.
Seeking a Court order for an injunction is an expensive process and all the more difficult if the underlying claim is one of defamation, as this can be difficult to prove.

In either situation, we would recommend writing to the ex-employee initially, to ask her to sign written undertakings in which she promises not to continue with the behaviour. These have the same effect as a contract.

Within those undertakings, she would have to state that, in consideration for us not bringing court proceedings against her, she would refrain from either breaching the confidentiality clause or making the defamatory statements. This helps to keep the legal costs to a manageable level, but restrains the behaviour in the same way that an injunction would.

BY JIM WRIGHT & IAN DAWSON, PARTNERS, SHULMANS LLP www.shulmans.co.uk