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Office Romance: The perils of Valentine’s Day in the workplace

Published 14 February 2017

It’s that time of year when love is in the air but it can lead to heartbreak in the workplace.

Valentine’s Day often presents the perfect opportunity to declare your love or affection for that special someone who makes your heart flutter or skip a beat.

And if it is between work colleagues, and it is unrequited affection, it can lead to all sorts of problems…and leave an employer with an untimely headache.

An inappropriate card, unwanted physical contact, cheeky suggestion, crude comment or prank could give rise to claims of sexual harassment.

A study by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) revealed that more than half of the women quizzed thought they had suffered sexual harassment during their working lives (1).

Employers also need to consider any claims of harassment made by male workers. The reported case of Martin Sheils highlighted that he was the victim of discrimination and harassment at work on the grounds of sexual orientation before he was dismissed. He lodged a successful claim for unfair dismissal and the tribunal found that his complaints of harassment had not been properly investigated (2).

There currently seems to be a blurred line between workplace banter and offensive conduct, with distasteful actions and comments often excused as being just playful teasing. With everything that is associated with Valentine’s Day an inappropriate sexual comment or innuendo may seem like harmless fun to some.

However, employers should take a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination and harassment and have established and clear policies in place to deal with such matters.

Staff should be made aware of their personal responsibilities and of their rights if they believe they have suffered unfavourable treatment.

If an employee does make a complaint or raise a grievance it is important to investigate and establish the facts as quickly as possible.

The grievance process should be clearly set out in an organisation’s policy (3).

If it is practicable or possible then it is best to try and deal with a grievance informally. If this cannot be done allow the employee to fully explain their grievance before investigating it, providing an outcome and notifying them of their right to appeal should they wish to do so.

References:

1. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Nearly two in three young women have experienced sexual harassment at work, TUC survey reveals [Internet]. TUC. 2016 [cited 2017 Feb 14]. Available from: https://www.tuc.org.uk/equality-issues/sexual-harassment/gender-equality/nearly-two-three-young-women-have-experienced

2. Stena Line docker wins homophobia unfair dismissal case. BBC News [Internet]. 2014 May 13 [cited 2017 Feb 14]; Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-27385698

3. Handling an employee’s grievance - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jan 24]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/handling-employee-grievance/overview

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