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Valentine’s Day In the Workplace: Avoiding Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

Valentine’s Day means different things to each person. For some, a mere valentine can be given to a friend or colleague as it was during school days; however, Valentine’s Day is a holiday associated with love and relationships and an innocent gift of flowers or a card can be easily misconstrued.

valentineManaging risks of harassment related litigation has a lot to do with the type of environment you create in the workplace. There are some that feel comfortable with celebrations and decorations associated with Valentine’s Day or other holidays, but that is not necessarily the case for everyone. In some cases, there may even be religious reasons associated with this sensitivity.

Many may think that the law prohibits any kind of non-work activity in the office; the reality is that the law itself does have protections, but when the lines are crossed are blurry. This leads to attorneys and HR reps erring on the safe side. There is a way to balance celebrating Valentine’s day without being intrusive or crossing the line by not integrating any holidays within the actual work environment.

Some attorney’s may suggest to not every even say “happy Valentine’s Day” to anyone as that may be misconstrued; this may seem over the top, but there’s actual wisdom behind this. The criteria that is applied to sexual harassment is whether the person being allegedly harassed subjectively considered the actions unwelcome. That means it is irrelevant whether a reasonable person would find the acts unwelcome, but whether the actual person as a matter of fact considered the acts unwelcome. There is much more to this topic of unwelcomeness, but the point of the matter is that it can be difficult to know where to draw this line.

Workplace Romance

Office romances are quite common but are a huge liability risk if and when things go sour. One party can claim harassment especially if they can show unwelcome advances after the relationship is over. Outright bands are usually to be avoided when it comes workplace relationships because this will often lead to the relationships being concealed. Especially where a relationship is between a supervisor and the subordinate, an employer must make precautions.

Nasir Pasha, Esq.

Post by:

Managing attorney and co-host of podcast Legally Sound | Smart Business

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