While Valentine’s Day is a special opportunity to celebrate love and relationships in your life, employers should be wary of bringing celebrations into the workplace. Giving gifts, even small items such as cards or chocolate, to an employee could have innocent intentions but may be perceived as sexual harassment. To ensure that sexual harassment is not occurring in the workplace around this holiday or any other time, employers should have policies to support professional boundaries. 

How Unwanted Valentine’s Day Gifts Can Be Considered Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Workplace sexual harassment manifests as unwanted advances of a sexual nature, which causes the victim to feel uncomfortable, violated, or degraded. These behaviors can lead to a hostile workplace environment, which means that the conduct is so egregious that it alters working conditions for employees, creating feelings of discomfort, anxiety, or fear. 

Regardless of whether you are celebrating Valentine’s Day, an unwelcome gift of a romantic or flirty nature could be viewed as unwanted conduct, especially if it is part of a pattern of unwanted behavior. When making an initial judgment as to whether you are or were subjected to workplace sexual harassment, consider the context of the conduct, the frequency of the offense, and the nature of the relationship involved. 

4 Ways Avoid Valentine’s-Day-Related Harassment Claims in the Workplace 

To ensure sexual harassment is not occurring in the workplace on Valentine’s Day, employers and employees should consider the following four ways to reduce the risk of this type of conduct taking place: 

1. A Clear Anti-Harassment Policy 

A clear anti-harassment policy that outlines workplace behaviors that are acceptable and unacceptable is one of the most effective deterrents of sexual harassment. An anti-harassment policy should also outline how to report unwanted behaviors, how reports of sexual harassment will be handled, and the consequences for participating in harassing behaviors. Anti-harassment training may include specific Valentine’s Day examples to further mitigate potential violations of the policy.

2. No Gifting Unless the Gifts Are For Everyone 

If you must bring gifts into the workplace, make sure the gifts are for everyone and do not single a person out. Employers should recognize that intention does not matter regarding sexual harassment claims. For managers or other employees in positions of authority, gifting to subordinates should be prohibited on Valentine’s Day. Unwanted affection or attention in a professional environment is unacceptable. 

3. Do Not Inquire About Romantic Plans 

It is vital to recognize that even though Valentine’s Day may be a trendy topic of discussion, it is not okay to inquire about an employee’s romantic personal life. Consider avoiding questions regarding after-work plans, whether someone is dressed up for an occasion, or inquiries about who sent them gifts. While it is not reasonable for employers to stifle conversations in the workplace, employers should remind staff that Valentine’s Day is not a free pass to ask personal, prying questions.

4. Be Mindful of Marital or Familial Status 

Valentine’s Day is a romantic holiday that may not be celebrated by everyone in the workplace. Many of your co-workers may be single, divorced, or widowed. Keep in mind that marital and familial status are protected classes in California. If an employer has numerous employees asking for time off to celebrate Valentine’s Day, be mindful not to require only those who are single, unmarried, or childless to cover for them.

Speak With the Experienced Employment Lawyers at Blackstone Law 

If you are unsure whether the conduct you experienced in the workplace constitutes sexual harassment, speak with the experienced employment lawyers at Blackstone Law for an assessment of your claim. We are committed to protecting your legal rights with the utmost honesty, integrity, and quality care. 

Schedule a no-cost consultation to learn more about your legal options by calling (310) 956-4054 or filling out our contact form.