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Marriage, blood, and romance: Managing conflicts of interest involving personal relationships

Rebecca Walker (rwalker@kaplanwalker.com) is a Partner in Kaplan & Walker LLP, a law firm located in Santa Monica, California and Princeton, New Jersey, that specializes in providing legal advice to organizations regarding their compliance and ethics programs.

When not handled appropriately, romantic relationships in the workplace can cause all sorts of problems, including, in some cases, rather high-profile terminations and serious reputational harm. The problems with workplace relationships are not confined to romantic relationships, however. Family members in the workplace can also create concerns for organizations. In light of the risks, many companies have developed policies governing workplace relationships, which increasingly attempt to strike a balance between protecting the organization’s interests and recognizing employees’ rights to relationships and to privacy. And, to make matters even more complicated, different cultures and different legal systems tend to view this issue differently, which makes promulgation of an enterprise-wide policy more difficult for multinational companies. In this article, we first explore the potential harms and benefits from employing related persons, then discuss organizational controls in this area, including the scope and content of related persons policies, how policies deal with romantic relationships, and approval procedures.

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