Passing out candy in elementary school is one thing, but how do you deal with Valentine's Day at work?
Good intentions may come off as inappropriate office behavior on Valentine's Day. Amorous antics, even if meant as a joke, can potentially get you and your company sued.
To prevent that from happening to your business, here are our Top 10 legal tips for managing Valentine's Day at your workplace:
- Re-think hugging. A quick hug might be OK, but embraces that are too long, too frequent, or too tight may be inappropriate and could even constitute assault or battery if it's unwanted.
- Dating your subordinates can be dangerous. Relationships between supervisors and subordinates can lead to sexual harassment lawsuits if subordinates are only being promoted because of their illicit relationships with their bosses.
- Consider prohibiting PDA. If seeing couples make out in public makes you uncomfortable, you certainly don't want the same behavior in your office. Staff members who are skeeved out by the daily tonsil hockey could have grounds to sue over a hostile work environment.
- Establish a "no-fraternization" policy. Having clear rules in place for what kind of relationships are and aren't allowed in the workplace can help keep personal and legal drama out of the office.
- Draft "consensual relationship agreements." While you can't force employees who were already in relationship prior to starting work break up, you can make them sign a contract that seeks to prevent their relationship from disrupting the office. Plus, it could also potentially prevent sexual harassment suits.
- Take complaints to heart. Having a procedure to handle complaints about inappropriate behavior on Valentine's Day (or any other day) is helpful because there's a chain of command and employees will know that their discomfort is being acknowledged and taken seriously.
- Have your employees attend an anti-harassment workshop. A mandatory, professional anti-harassment workshop will give all employees and supervisors the tools they need to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
- Discourage inappropriate jokes. Much like inappropriate physical contact, inappropriate jokes and pictures are an office no-no. Those jokes can also lead to a hostile work environment if they are pervasive enough.
- Watch out for sexting. Let your employees know that sexting with each other is inappropriate Valentine's Day behavior and that doing so via work-issued technology is strictly prohibited. Even the FBI had to crack down on the new "trend" of employee sexting last year.
- Talk to an employment law attorney. When you're trying to create a romance-free work environment, you may come across laws or policies you don't understand, so contact your friendly neighborhood employment lawyer to avoid legal liability.
This Valentine's Day, you may want to remind your employees that there are boundaries when it comes to affectionate behavior in the workplace. It may be best if they just leave their romantic aspirations at home.
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- Workplace Sexual Harassment Poll Finds Large Share Of Workers Suffer, Don't Report (The Huffington Post)
- Is It OK to Hug People at Work? (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)
- Office Romance, Marriage Banned by Tenn. Sheriff (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)
- At Work, Valentine's Day Romance Can Be Risky (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)