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Four Tips to Avoid a Valentine’s Day Disaster

February 13, 2024

I’ve always hated Valentine’s Day.

I can’t decide whether it’s because of the custom of gift-giving and spending, which has contributed IMHO to the over-commercialisation of this (holi)day.

Or whether it’s down to the amount of chocolate which floats around the office (and inevitably ends up in my mouth) from the 15th onwards…

Or maybe it’s because I hate having to guess which of my colleagues has gifted me the dozen red roses, sexy boxers and saucy Valentine’s Day card.

OK.

So that third one has never actually happened to me.

But, given the fact that it’s not unusual for HR professionals and managers to dread this time of the year, here are four tips to avoid a Valentine’s Day Dis-AAAAS-ter.

Control unwanted behaviour that might constitute harassment

It stands to reason that employers should take action under their equal opportunities and anti-harassment policies against any employee who makes unwanted sexual advances towards a colleague.

Whilst an employer can’t police a couple’s activities outside the workplace, an employer could introduce a general ban during working time on kissing, touching or holding hands. Basically, any PDOAs (Public Displays of Office Affection) should be prohibited.

Introduce a written policy on personal relationships at work

Whilst a US-style “love contract” (an agreement, signed by employees, stating that the relationship is voluntary and consensual) might be a step too far for the UK workplace, it is possible for employers to draft a policy on personal relationships for workers, striking the tricky balance between protecting the employer’s legitimate business interests and the rights of employees to a private life.

Such policies should include permitting relationships within the workplace providing that they do not negatively influence the workers’ conduct during the working week. The policy might also require the couple to inform a manager when a relationship is initiated and the employer could reserve the right to transfer one or both employees to another unit, or change their reporting lines.

Be prepared for an office romance breakup

In all honesty, a break up between employees is often the most challenging issue an HR professional or manager will face. Let’s face it, if you end up having to work with your “former significant other”, you’ll be more concerned about un-tagging all the cutesy couple Insta photos and sobbing with your besties over Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream, than working efficiently.

An employer could create a rule that employees in personal relationships require to inform the employer if the relationship status changes.

Hopefully, such a rule would provide HR professionals with a good opportunity to deal with any potential problems in good time and warn the employees of the behaviour expected of them. It would also allow managers to offer them space to talk, listen without judgment and ask the employee what support they need.

Take action against the Casanova/Femme Fatale

A one-off compliment from one employee to another, when the pair know each other well, is unlikely to constitute harassment. But unrequited love – aka unwanted advances – could leave employees feeling uncomfortable or even permit the complimented employee making a complaint of harassment.

Basically, if your employees get frisky, it could get risky.

Employers should not fear taking disciplinary action against the office Casanova/Femme Fatale.

So, take these tips on board and you can keep your culture “sweet” tomorrow.  

Oh, and speaking of “sweet”, you can definitely pick up a high calorie, bargain bin Valentine’s Day treat on the way home tomorrow night.

Go on. You deserve it.

If you have any questions about this, or any other Employment law issue, then please get in touch with the Blackadders Employment team with offices throughout Scotland.

The opinions expressed in this site are of the author(s) only and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Blackadders LLP.

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