Acceptable conduct in the workplace is an essential element in what makes a truly cohesive and supportive workplace. Sadly this is not always achieved and no-one could have missed the media attention given to allegations that some key figures may have abused their position.
Positive personal relationships, of course, have been formed in the workplace for decades and no doubt will be for years to come; and as it is Valentine’s Day this week this may well prompt deliveries of cards, flowers, chocolates, and so on. So is this something to be concerned about?
Usually, Valentine’s Day would be regarded as a bit of fun and would not have much of an impact within the workplace. Having said that, there is always the possibility of employees being distracted, for example if flowers are delivered at work, bringing a smile to the recipient and colleagues’ faces (or a grimace from jealous colleagues).
Receiving a card/flowers/chocolates tends not to create too many problems when it is from a known admirer and is a welcome gift. When it is from an unknown admirer, or is an unwelcome gift from a colleague, that’s when problems can arise. The recipient might feel apprehensive or concerned until the unknown admirer is identified. If the secret admirer turns out to be from within the same workplace, or the gift is unwelcome from a known colleague, then this falls to the employer to investigate any allegations of inappropriate behaviour and/or possible sexual harassment.
Relationships at Work
Whilst it may be unrealistic to attempt to stop work relationships from blossoming in the first place, an appropriate policy can help avoid the negative consequences that might otherwise grow from an office romance. In our Information Update 2016/04 we provided commentary on the implications of “romance” within the workplace, and we set out various provisions to help avoid future problems.
An employer, or anyone in a managerial or supervisory position, behaving inappropriately towards a junior member of staff whether on Valentine’s Day or any other day for that matter is likely to cause problems within the workplace.
Showing amorous affection towards a colleague or a junior member of staff, when it is unwanted, amounts to sexual harassment if it has the purpose or effect of violating the recipient’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
Harassment is considered to be behaviour which is not sought by the recipient, is personally offensive and which fails to respect the rights of others. Within the workplace it can be disruptive, divisive and extremely upsetting or seriously offensive and can potentially harm the health and well-being of the recipient or any third party who witnesses such conduct, so bang goes the cohesive and supportive workplace we opened with.
Employers will be vicariously liable for any harassment, unless they can show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent it. An employer’s best protection is to have an appropriate Equal Opportunities or Diversity Policy, which specifically deals with sexual harassment. The policy should be clearly communicated to all employees, and staff should be given training in the policy.
By having good standards that are well understood then you will be well on the way to creating the harmonious workplace that is good for business.
If you wish further advice or training on Equal Opportunities, Diversity or Dignity in the Workplace please ring us on 03456 446 006.