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Valentine’s Day ethics – a strategic approach for employers

Should workplace cupid be allowed to shoot its arrow, or is it wiser to lock the door to any potential romantic entanglements?

Should workplace cupid be allowed to shoot its arrow, or is it wiser to lock the door to any potential romantic entanglements?

As Valentine’s Day looms, Jade McEvoy, people consultant at employment law and HR firm AfterAthena, looks at the annual dilemma for employers.

The answer, undoubtedly, lies in the delicate balance of recognising the realities of workplace dynamics while safeguarding against potential legal pitfalls.

Though an outright ban on Valentine’s Day cards may seem legally wise, it’s impractical, given that a significant amount of time is spent at work, it’s not uncommon for people to form connections in the workplace.

Policies alone won’t change this reality. Instead, employers should prioritise cultivating a culture of respect, clearly stating that all forms of harassment, including romantic, are unacceptable. 

Harassment, defined by the Equality Act, occurs when unwanted conduct of a sexual nature violates an individual’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, humiliating, or offensive environment. The key lies in understanding the context, individual perceptions, and the reasonableness of the conduct in question.

Addressing grievances linked to unwelcome Valentine’s Day cards requires employers to carefully assess the situation. A senior employee’s crude and public proposition, followed by unsolicited advances, demands serious attention due to potential boundary violations and the risk of a hostile work environment.

Thorough investigation, considering power dynamics, is essential for taking decisive disciplinary measures when necessary.

On the other hand, a discreet and respectful card exchanged between peers, with a clear understanding and acceptance of personal boundaries, may not warrant serious disciplinary action.

Employers should recognise the distinction between genuine, consensual expressions of friendship or affection and inappropriate conduct. Sensitivity in handling such situations ensures that a positive workplace dynamic is maintained without unnecessary repercussions.

To guide employers through the complex landscape of workplace romance, consider the following strategies.

Swiftly Address Grievances Arising from Valentine’s Day Card Incidents
In the event of a grievance being raised due to unwanted Valentine’s interaction, early intervention is key in preventing the matter from escalating furthermore, employers have a duty of care towards the employee and it’s important to be able to demonstrate that the employees’ concerns have been taken seriously, with a best practice approach and in line with company policy.

Investigate the specifics of the incident, considering the perspectives of both the complainant and the accused. A fair and thorough investigation allows for a more informed decision on the appropriate course of action.

Provide Training on Workplace Boundaries
Consider implementing training on workplace boundaries, emphasising the importance of respectful and professional conduct. Such initiatives can help employees understand the nuances of appropriate workplace interactions and contribute to a healthier workplace culture.

Review and Update Policies
Regularly review and update workplace policies to address emerging issues and align with evolving societal norms. This proactive approach ensures that policies remain relevant and provide clear guidelines for acceptable behaviour in the workplace.

Promoting a proactive, educational approach enables employers to cultivate a workplace where responsible relationship navigation is encouraged, fostering a culture of respect and professionalism. Valentine’s Day becomes an opportunity for positive workplace interactions when approached with awareness and sensitivity.

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