Sexual Harassment Laws and Valentine's Day
Tips for Dealing With Valentine's Day at the Office
Valentine's Day was a holiday created by the greeting card companies as an opportunity to increase card sales, but most people see Valentine's Day as a day set aside for lovers. And, attempting to celebrate Valentine's Day in the office could be seen as a violation of discrimination laws.
The Office Is Not a School Room
As school children, most of us looked forward to swapping Valentines with classmates. We all did it, working diligently with lists of classmates so no one was forgotten and it was safe to give your secret crush a Valentine's Day card without letting the secret out of the bag. But the office is not a classroom and the rules for Valentine's Day at work are very different.
Why Giving Valentine Cards Is Not a Great Idea
Even if you plan on passing out seemingly benign, cute little cards to everyone at the office, unless you work in a year-round casual work environment, it could hurt your reputation. Your attempt to be thoughtful could be seen as being "cutesy" and unprofessional. At work, you want people to take you and your work seriously.
Even simple cards intended for school-age children are not appropriate for the workplace. If you want to do something nice for co-workers bring in a big box of candy and place it in an open area for all to enjoy. But ... skip those candy hearts with suggestive words and messages!
Valentine's Day: A Prime Opportunity to Break Sexual Harassment Laws
You might think adult or sexy cards are funny, but they should never be given to anyone - male or female at the office. Any card the depicts, suggests, or alludes to a sexual or romantic act could be considered sexual harassment.
If you are particularly close friends with a co-worker and you want to share a card, do it after work hours and off premises. Even then, be careful. If your card can be considered a come on - even outside the office place - it could come back to haunt you.
Do Not Give Valentines Cards or Gifts to Subordinate Employees or Your Boss
Do not give cards or gifts commemorating the day to people who work for you or above you - they could get the wrong message.
Because the very nature of the holiday is intended as a day to remind people you love them, or have "romantic" feelings towards them, it is easy for a recipient to misunderstand your intentions.
If you want to do something nice for your employees, take them out to lunch - as a group. If you single anyone out for a gift, card, or even lunch, or only take male or female workers, it could appear to others as sexual harassment or gender discrimination.
Do Not Send Valentine's Day Emails
Your employer does not pay you to use company time and email to send personal emails. But more important, if you send an email to a coworker, they can forward it on too easily to other people. The way sexual discrimination laws work even if you person you sent it to thought it was funny, anyone else who saw it in the workplace (i.e., the message was forwarded to) that is offended, could file a complaint against you.
Getting Flowers and Gifts At Work
Loved ones may send flowers or candy to your workplace. Some employers may not have a problem with this, but others might. It ties up staff who have to sign for or deliver the gifts, and it can be upsetting or distracting to employees who may have lost a loved one, or simply do not have a steady at the moment.
If you do get gifts or flowers at work, be discrete and sensitive to others around you. Do not make a big show of things and take the flowers home with you when you leave for the day.
Remember, Valentine's Day was a holiday created by the greeting card companies as an opportunity to increase card sales, but most people see Valentine's Day as a day set aside for lovers. And, attempting to celebrate Valentine's Day in the office could be seen as a violation of discrimination laws.