Personal and famillial relationships
The College is a large organisation and recognises there will be staff who are members of the same family or who are in a personal relationship. The College does not wish to discourage this or indirectly discriminate against any employee, however, is it vital to avoid any conflict of interest and ensure employees are not placed at an advantageous or disadvantageous position as a result of this.
This policy guidance has been designed to advise on the process and steps to ensure equality.
The College recognises that good working relationships are essential to the creation of an effective workplace and encourages all members of staff to foster strong professional relationships with colleagues. In accordance with the terms of the Equality Act (2010), the College is committed to treating all current and potential employees equally, and to avoid discrimination against any individual, by reason of their sex or marital status.
It is important, however, to ensure that personal and other family relationships are conducted in such a way that the work of the individuals involved is not affected, and that equality of opportunity, professionalism and commitment to the College is maintained at all times. Whilst the College is big enough to accommodate partners and family members working within its broad organisational and geographical spread, some regulation is necessary where such staff are brought into closer contact, e.g. within the same small Department. It is important to ensure that the recruitment, selection, treatment, development and promotion of staff are based solely on worth, and not in any way affected by personal relationships.
Any member of staff involved in a personal relationship with a current or potential member of staff must inform their line manager as soon as any actual, perceived or potential conflict of interest arises (more likely where the individuals in question work closely together, or within the same Department or Division). Naturally, the line manager will treat all such matters in confidence, and all staff members are welcome to seek advice, on an informal basis, from a senior member of the Human Resources Division before discussing their situation with their line manager.
If members of staff are working in the same department or section, and the actual or perceived conflict of interest cannot be resolved by other means and is or might potentially be interfering with the professional conduct of College business, one party may be moved to another area of work, or work location. Direct line management or supervisory relationships between spouses/ partners/ family members will not be permitted where there is a perceived conflict of interest. Human Resources should be involved in any discussions regarding this issue to provide objective assistance and ensure College-wide consistency.
If a member of staff has a close personal or familial relationship with an applicant for employment s/he must not be involved in the recruitment and selection process.
Where a member of staff has a pre-existing relationship, or develops a relationship with a student during the course of study, such that there is a potential conflict of interest, especially with regard to the student’s assessment (which includes supervision), the member of staff and student must declare this in confidence to the Head of Department at the start of the course of study or at the point at which the relationship has started if this is during the course. The Head of Department will treat all such matters in confidence, and any staff member is welcome to seek advice, on an informal basis, from a senior member of the HR before discussing their situation with their Head of Department.
All members of the College with any staff management responsibilities are expected to ensure that relationships within their team and students remain professional at all times.
Policy context and background
The policy was developed directly in response to an HEFCE Audit which identified that the lack of clear regulations in this area was leading to perceptions of unfair treatment (two specific cases were identified). The lack of any clear guidelines is also inconsistent with good corporate governance and a professional approach to business like staff relations. The new policy is in line with similar arrangements in the public and private sectors. It represents best practice.
The College is a major employer even by London standards. It is therefore reasonable that within its large organisational and geographical compass it can embrace staff who are members of the same family or who are in a personal relationship. The College does not wish to discourage this, or to act in any way which may be inconsistent with fairness at work, or which may directly or indirectly discriminate against any employee or candidate for employment on the grounds of gender, race, disability or marital status.
What must be avoided, however, is any conflict of interest. No employee or potential employee must be placed at an advantageous or disadvantageous position as a result of a personal/familial relationship at work. This applies to those in a personal relationship as well as those affected by the relationships of others.
Existing relationships prior to employment
The following guidelines apply to the above relationships.
1. A member of staff involved in a close personal or familial relationship with an applicant for a job must not be involved in the selection process.
2. If appointed, the successful candidate cannot under any circumstances be placed in a direct line management relationship with the existing staff member.
3. The allowable proximity within which two related employees will be permitted to work cannot be laid down precisely - it will depend on the nature of the work and their positions within the organisation. It might, for instance, be reasonable for two related security staff to work in the same section at South Kensington, whilst the employment of the son or daughter of a senior manager (e.g. HR Director) might be difficult almost anywhere in the organisation! The test to be applied must be one of potential conflict of interest which only individual line managers can assess. Questions which may usefully be asked in this context may, however, include:
3.1. Is one of the employees in a sufficiently senior position to influence the more junior's career (in fact, or in the perception of others)?
3.2. Are any staff likely to be made uncomfortable in their dealings with either of the two staff members because of the existence of the relationship?
3.3. If the relationship were to deteriorate for any reason could this give rise to conflict of interest?
Line Managers who need help or advice interpreting these guidelines should contact their HoD in the first instance; this will help to ensure consistency of practice across individual departments. HoDs needing advice should contact either their Faculty Administrator or HR Partners (to ensure consistency across the Faculty). In particularly sensitive cases the HR Director can be consulted (to ensure consistency across the College).
The guidelines from para 2 to para 3.3 (in section "existing relationships prior to employment") apply equally to relationships that develop at work once they are declared. The difficulty arises out of the fact that such relationships may not emerge as being 'public' for a long time. The following principles should be applied in this sensitive area:
1. Line managers should make their own staff aware of College policy and the responsibility of all staff to ensure that relationships at work do not undermine their professional positions;
2. Staff should be urged to approach their line managers in confidence should a relationship develop that may contravene the principles of the policy;
3. Line managers should be wary of contravening employees right to privacy - a right which is now enshrined in law. If they suspect that a relationship between two of their staff could be problematic, they should make a tactful and informed approach to the more senior of the staff involved, or the one who has been employed longest in the case of staff at the same level. HR should be consulted in any case of doubt or difficulty.
4. When a relationship 'emerges' in this way the line manager should take advice from his/her HoD and or Faculty Principal/Administrators involving HR as appropriate. In some cases it may be possible to accommodate the problem by a minor organisational change. Where this is not possible, and the problem can only be satisfactorily addressed by a move outside the department/division, the staff involved in the relationship should be consulted about their own ideas and preferences. There should be no automatic assumption that the more junior of the staff concerned or, in relevant instances, the female member of the partnership, should be moved in preference. Every effort should be made to avoid any outcome which could compromise the care er of either party; the aim throughout should be one of mutual accommodation subject only to the overriding need to comply with College policy.
Whilst the prohibition on personal/familial relationships in direct line management roles does not apply retrospectively (see the "introduction" section above), it is important that those in such a relationship exercise particular care to ensure that no actual or perceived conflict of interest arises. Line Managers should be prepared to counsel such staff and, if necessary, take appropriate action if the current arrangements are causing difficulties of real or perceived conflict of interest. (In essence, this is what they would be obliged to do now even without the benefit of the new policy.) Cases of doubt or difficulty should be referred for advice in line with the "contacts" section above.
Any member of staff who feels that s/he has been unfairly treated as a result of the application of this policy can appeal. In view of the involvement of his/her senior managers in the application of the policy which has given rise to the decision in the first place, the appeal would be to an independent member of staff at HoD or Principal level - to be agreed between the employee and the HR Director.