Valentine’s Day cards at work: appropriate or not?
Valentine’s Day; a time to express love and affection. Say it with chocolates, flowers, sentimental photo albums, lovey-dovey mixed tapes (…or Spotify playlists), and cards. Soppy cards, jokey cards, and avocado cards that say ‘let’s avo cuddle’.
But how does HR deal with Valentine’s Day cards in the workplace? Are they appropriate amongst employees? Can a Valentine’s Day card be deemed sexual harassment? What should you do about them? And what happens if the recipient of a card raises a grievance? Read on to find out.
Are Valentine’s Day cards work–appropriate?
It’s not unusual to encounter long term partners and spouses in the workplace. In these instances, it’s unlikely that HR needs to worry about the exchange of Valentine’s Day cards.
But what about fleeting office romances or workplace crushes? Well, that’s where things are a bit grey. Because sometimes, it boils down to how the card is received.
And I don’t mean by carrier pigeon. I mean, how does the recipient feel about the card and the message inside? What is cute and funny to one person, might be incredibly unprofessional and inappropriate to another.
Unfortunately, as an employer or an HR team, it’s impossible to ensure that all cards will be well-received. Further, not all cards will be sent with good intentions; these types of cards are definitely inappropriate in the workplace (see next section on sexual harassment).
In short, you have a few options:
- Enforce a blanket ban on Valentine’s Day cards at work
- Do nothing until something happens and an issue arises
- Communicate with your employees in the lead up to Valentine’s Day on what is (and isn’t) appropriate
Can a Valentine’s Day card be deemed sexual harassment?
According to ACAS, sexual harassment can be a one-off incident or an ongoing pattern of behaviour. It can include:
- flirting, gesturing or making sexual remarks about someone’s body, clothing or appearance
- asking questions about someone’s sex life
- telling sexually offensive jokes
- emailing, texting or messaging sexual content
- displaying pornographic or sexual images on posters, calendars and cards
- having pornographic or sexual images on computers and phones
- sexual assault or rape
- touching someone against their will, for example hugging them
What some people might consider as joking, ‘banter’ or part of their workplace culture can still be sexual harassment if the behaviour is of a sexual nature and it’s unwanted.
So yes, if messages and emails can be deemed sexual harassment, so can cards.
What should you do?
Well, your course of action might depend on how likely it is that an issue will occur. And only you have the answer to that. You know your culture inside out and you already have knowledge of the employee behaviours exhibited in somewhat comparable situations e.g. the work Christmas party, after work drinks, awards nights etc.
Is there cause for concern here? Are there employees who run the risk of sending offensive cards as a ‘joke’? And do you have employees who won’t react well to receiving a card – no matter how well-intentioned it was? Your answers to these questions may determine what you choose to do.
- Enforcing a blanket ban could be considered extreme, but that perception must be weighed against both the probability and impact of the risk (see next section on grievances!)
- Doing nothing at all might be a calculated risk that you’re willing to take based on the knowledge you have the company culture.
- Perhaps a middle-ground approach will be the right choice for your business. Some light-hearted, but clear communications that explain what the expected behaviours are.
What do I do if an employee gets a card and raises a grievance?
If an employee is unhappy about receiving a Valentine’s Day card, or about the contents of that card, it could be considered sexual harassment. As such they’d be within their rights to raise a grievance.
But a grievance raised on the back of a Valentine’s Day card presents an obvious challenge; Valentine’s Day cards tend to be anonymous.
This makes matters even more time consuming for HR; part of their investigations must include getting definitive proof of who sent the card.
If you’re a Moorepay customer and you’re facing a grievance, contact our team of employment law experts for help and advice.