14 Feb Love at Work in Italy
What the Internal Policies Adopted by Italian Companies Provide For
Towards the end of 2019 we saw the news of the dismissal of Mark Wiseman, former Head of the American investment company BlackRock, who was found “guilty” of violating the code of business conduct for having a sentimental – and consensual – relationship with an employee under his direct reporting without the company’s knowledge. A similar fate had previously occurred, for the same reason, to Steve Eastbrook, former CEO of McDonald’s.
In fact, following the #MeToo movement, many international companies (such as Facebook and Alphabet) have introduced not only internal regulations aimed at combating sexual harassment in the workplace, but also stringent corporate policies that prohibit romantic relationships between colleagues and also requiring that, in the event there of, managers and employees must communicate to their employers the existence of sentimental relationships with work colleagues.
These regulations, often referred to as the “no fraternization policy“, have the stated purpose of preventing love blossoming between employees which could potentially create conflicts of interest or negative repercussions on work performance in addition to relationships with other colleagues.
But what is the situation in Italy – one of the most romantic countries in the world?
First of all, it must be said that the phenomenon of sentimental relationships between work colleagues has now become widespread, considering that – according to recent surveys – an estimated 70% of those interviewed confirmed that they are having or have had an office romance.
Interestingly, while most of large corporations in Italy have internal codes of conduct which expressly prohibit unwanted behaviours with a sexual connotation (and also consider these acts as a reason for dismissal) – the actual regulations and corporate ethical codes do not go so far as to prohibit consensual relationships between work colleagues in Italy.
This is because it is a very delicate matter.
In fact, it could be in the interest of companies to prohibit behaviour of this nature in order to stop any potential influence of the career, or professional growth, of an employee through the exploitation of romantic relationships. This of course must be balanced with an employee’s right to privacy, as well as with consideration to their personal freedoms, which are guaranteed by the Italian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Therefore, corporate codes of conduct or regulations which outright forbid sentimental relationships between work colleagues and / or impose on workers an obligation to inform their employer of their love affairs with work colleagues, would risk – according to the Italian Constitution (Articles 2, 3 and 23) and the Italian Code for Privacy (Legislative Decree 196/2003 which has been modified in line with the GDPR EU Regulation 2016/679) – to be declared void. Hence an employee’s ‘violation’ of such a rule would not result in dismissal or other disciplinary consequences.
In the United States (and in Anglo-Saxon countries in general) we see that this matter is more regulated – while in Italy love at work continues (at least for the moment) to remain confined within a more personal and private sphere.
Having said that, there is of course a need to avoid or limit the risk that a sentimental relationship between work colleagues could potentially lead to a conflict of interest – either through affecting the career or professional growth of workers within the company or, more importantly, lead to negative effects on the corporate climate. A solution to potentially mitigate this risk is through the introduction of employee assessment mechanisms based on transparent and objective criteria which would limit the space for discretion as much as possible – such as through an obligation for managers who have personal relationships (either through romance or through family ties) with the workers concerned to abstain from such assessments.
In order to stay on the right side of the law when it comes to matters of the heart in the workplace, employers and human resource professionals should be well versed in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. As indicated earlier, the discussion about office romance falls on a delicate line between work life and private life. But as love has no boundaries… perhaps, in the end, there is no line at all?
If you know why you fall in love, you aren’t in love – Luciano Pavarotti
LABLAW Studio Legale
A version of this article was originally published in French
in the Le Petit Journale