Ipswich: Council workers asked to tell managers about office romances and close friendships
17:53 20 May 2014
Bosses at Ipswich Council have denied claims that they are trying to monitor staff relationships following the publication of a new code of conduct.
This requires staff to tell their managers about close personal relationships they have with other members of staff, with councillors, or with outside contractors and suppliers that might work with the council.
The term “close personal relationship” is defined as any family relationship or any sexual or romantic relationship – whether short or long-term.
It can also include close personal friendships which are non-sexual or romantic.
The instruction that managers should be told about “short-term” relationships has sparked concerns that the authority could end up prying into the personal lives of staff who might engage in a drunken fumble at the end of a party.
However a spokesman for the authority insisted the code only applied when there was a risk of a conflict of interest arising – and council leader David Ellesmere insisted the borough’s code was merely a matter of “common sense.”
He said: “This is really in place to protect our staff against claims that they might show favour to someone they are close to – it is really a matter of common sense.
“It is something that is fairly common. We are not banning relationships – but we need to know if they are going to impact on council business.”
Employment lawyer Julie Temple of Quantrills said codes of conduct like this were not uncommon across businesses and the public sector – but employers needed to be aware of the risk posed by privacy laws under human rights legislation.
She said: “I can see what the council is trying to do by introducing this code of conduct and I can understand that they see it as necessary.
“However I think it is almost certain that someone somewhere will challenge a code like this under human rights legislation.”
A council spokesman added: “The code only requires employees to disclose, in confidence, to their line manager any close personal relationships where there is a risk of a conflict of interest arising.”
He added: “Examples where an employee would be expected to disclose a close personal relationship include cases where an employee’s spouse or partner is the managing director of a company bidding for a council contract.
“Internally the code would be applied where two employees who both work for the council are in a close relationship and one is responsible for managing the other or could be involved in selection for promotion or redundancy.”