Whether you love Valentine’s day or not only a handful are not aware that today we celebrate Valentine’s Day – a celebration of love and romance.
Most probably, the last thing that comes to mind when thinking of Valentine’s day are the implications that such an event may have at the place of work. We don’t want to spoil the fun that this feast brings with it but it has to be us (right?) that should bring the below to your attention.
Celebrating romance at the place of work may lead to claims of sexual harassment. This is also an effect of the surge in understanding and awareness about such act and claims. Unfortunately, some employees may assume that affection, expression or declarations towards a colleague on Valentine’s Day are immune to disciplinary proceedings. It is a fact that some think that traditions outperform a legal principle. However, each case has to be assessed on its own merits and yes it depends….
Sexual harassment at the workplace is a prohibited form of gender discrimination which is essentially defined as “unwelcome sexual conduct” and is unlawful at law. Let us remind ourselves – what constitutes sexual harassment:
(a) to subject other persons to an act of physical intimacy; or
(b) to request sexual favours from other persons; or
(c) to subject other persons to any act or conduct with sexual connotations, including spoken words, gestures or the production, display or circulation of any written words, pictures or other material, where the act, words or conduct is unwelcome to the persons to whom they are directed and could reasonably be regarded as offensive, humiliating or intimidating to the persons to whom they are directed; or
(d) the persons so subjected or requested are treated less favourably by reason of such persons’ rejection of or submission to such subjection or request, it could reasonably be anticipated that such persons would be so treated.
Repetitive or improper invitations to meet for dates or sexually allusive comments or puns are among the frequently quoted examples of sexual harassment.
Thus, when a conduct is unsolicited and has sexual connotations, as a lot of Valentine’s Day cards and gifts do, it risks being interpreted as sexual harassment. It is thus unwise to effect such gestures unless performed in a relationship or it is guaranteed that the recipient will give a positive response.
It is not only cards and gifts that may lead to Valentine’s Day sexual harassment claims. Texting, online communication or physical gestures can all raise the risk of such a harassment taking place. As we have said many times again, it is the opinion of the individual alleging sexual harassment that will be looked at and not whether the offender’s intentions were good or not.
Employers are liable for sexual harassment happening at the place of work and it is always advisable to take reasonable steps to prevent it from happening.
There is value when reminding employees of their obligations and we hope that you have your sexual harassment policy in place, and it is not a bad idea to remind employees of such. It is also advisable to treat allegations made by any employee which occur on this day with same seriousness as you would any other day. Harassment is harassment whether or not it takes place on Valentine’s Day. Last but not least always remember to train your employees and make sure all know what constitutes sexual harassment.
14th February, 2020