HR Blog

Flowers and Chocolates and Harassment, Oh My!

02/01/2017 | Dee Yingst

Ah, Valentine's Day: the time of love and joy, flowers and chocolate, romance and sexual harassment.

Wait, you say – sexual harassment? Valentine's Day is The Day of Love – why are we talking about an ugly topic like sexual harassment?!

Here's why. While there are many stories of successful workplace romances (Bill & Melinda Gates, for instance) there are just as many (if not more) stories of romances gone awry or even romances that only existed in one of the participants' minds.

So for this Valentine's Day I offer this cautionary tale: not all displays of romance are welcomed by the receiver.  It's these unwelcome displays of affection that can sometimes rise to the level of sexual harassment.

So what should I do? You ask. Should I just tell everyone to keep the flowers, the chocolate, and the singing telegrams out of the workplace, squash that love-bug and ban that Cupid fella altogether????

No need to clip Cupid's wings and ban all signs of love from the workplace.  This is, however, a great time to dust off your sexual harassment policy and educate your employees (and especially your supervisors) about unwelcome displays of affection.

First, make sure your sexual harassment policy is up to date. Make sure the policy explains:

  • What behavior constitutes sexual harassment
  • How an employee should report the harassing behavior, be sure to include multiple steps in the event the harasser is a supervisor or the employee is uncomfortable going to their supervisor for whatever reason
  • That all reports are investigated
  • That retaliation for good faith claims is prohibited

Your policy should clearly spell out what is unacceptable behavior – this is important. Most everyone knows big ones like 'do this [insert incredibly inappropriate sexual action here] for me or I'll fire/demote/not hire you' but they need to know that things like compliments that turn into graphic commentaries, unnecessary touching, and derogatory treatment based on gender are sexual harassment too. Be sure your supervisors are trained on the policy and the complaint procedure and are ready to act.

Employees should know that unwelcome advances are not acceptable and will not be tolerated;  that Valentine's Day is not an excuse for harassing behavior. Employees should know that all complaints are dealt with seriously and carefully and that retaliation is not tolerated.

So while you may not be able to stop Cupid's arrows, you can mitigate the risk with planning, policies and training. Happy Valentine's Day!