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Valentines Day at Work: Avoiding Problems

(posted: February 11th, 2016)

Valentines Day at Work


Like with other holidays, lots of people like to celebrate Valentine's Day in the workplace.

But there are many people who find Valentine's Day a reminder that they are lonely, or an excruciating exercise in popularity, or lack of popularity.

And of course, it can highlight the office romances.

A recent Careerbuilder.com survey found:

  • 37 percent of workers have dated a coworker
  • and 33 percent of those office romances have led to marriage

In addition:

  • Nearly a quarter of office romances involve a superior.
  • More than 2 out of 5 employees don't know if their company has policies about dating and office romance.

We spend a lot of time with our coworkers, often more than with our families, so it's not surprising that on the job romances are common.

But Valentine's Day, and office romances, can be a minefield for employers.

Office Romance, or Sexual Harassment?

The problems with employees dating are mostly related to harassment. Situations like:

  • A supervisor or manager who asks people out on dates or otherwise offers unwelcome advances
  • An employee who files a harassment suit after a workplace romance breaks up
  • Employees who feel like a supervisor is favoring his/her romantic partner and slighting everyone else

Employers are strictly liable for a supervisor's sexual harassment of a subordinate. Strict liability means that the employer has absolute legal responsibility for any harm; the employer does not have to be found careless or negligent.

Even if it appears that you've got a happy couple, a relationship between a supervisor and a subordinate may not truly be consensual or welcome, given the inherent power dynamic.

Aside from the liability issue, flirting and other romantic behaviors at work distract the parties involved in the relationship as well as everyone around them, leading to decreased productivity and morale.

One option is to put a dating policy in place. Banning dating among employees may seem like the way to go, but it can backfire. While office romance is generally bad for business, it's also inevitable. Instead, a dating policy puts in writing company expectations which at a minimum should include that if the romance affects the workplace or individual performance, disciplinary action will be taken.

However, it may ultimately be more effective to have a solid, written sexual harassment policy in place, and ensure that all supervisory staff is trained. In California that training is mandatory every two years for companies with more than 50 employees. Learn more about HR Solutions Partners' Sexual Harassment Prevention Training programs.

Valentine's Day at Work: Preventing Problems & Having Fun

If you do celebrate Valentine's Day at work, create events or activities that are inclusive and fun, and don't make it mandatory for people to attend.

In addition:

  • Remind managers that unwanted gifts and cards can make employees feel uncomfortable or harassed.
  • Ask managers to watch for signs that their subordinates are uneasy around certain co-workers.
  • Remind employees before the holiday what kinds of behaviors are unacceptable and how to report harassment.
  • Remind everyone not to flirt with colleagues; especially not supervisors with subordinates.

Although it's probably best to keep workplace Valentine's Day celebrations limited to decorations and treats, if you do let employees exchange Valentines, make sure, like in grade school, everybody gets one and the content isn't overly personal, especially when it's managers who are handing out the gifts.

Finally, though we hope it doesn't come to this, make sure to take all complaints seriously and never retaliate against an employee who complains of workplace harassment.

If you need some help with your employee policies or with sexual harassment prevention training for supervisors, please contact us, we're here to help.

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