5 Valentine’s Day Sexual Harassment Claims
Valentine’s Day is the holiday for love cards and chocolates but not coworkers. Sometimes managers and coworkers think it might be cute to send everyone valentine notes or a chain email greeting card. In other cases, managers see it as a good time to express their interest in a certain coworker or employee. Valentine’s Day employment harassment commonly becomes a part of harassment complaints at this time of year.
Even between close friends, sharing Valentine cards can be seen as a come on. If you want to share a Valentine with a coworker, do it after work hours and not at work.
Sexual Harassment on Valentine’s Day and Title VII
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlines how employment discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal. The most common types of sexual harassment are “quid pro quo” and a hostile work environment. During Valentine’s Day, either sexual harassment type can occur.
Quid pro quo – when an employee is targeted by a supervisor who requires a sexual favor in return for favorable treatment or withholding a demotion
Hostile work environment – when one or more employees or managers make offensive remarks, share provocative pictures, or crack offensive jokes repeatedly without stopping
Retaliation for reporting quid pro quo or hostile work environment is against the law, and Title VII protects employees from employer retaliation. Also, Title VII prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for reporting unlawful discrimination or harassment.
5 Activities that Become Valentine’s Day Sexual Harassment Claims
When it comes to Valentine’s Day, any gifts between colleagues and supervisor can be misunderstood as unwanted sexual advances. Sometimes the gifts or cards are the cherry to a sundae of building sexual harassment claims. Flowers, chocolates, gifts, or cards on Valentine’s Day (with explicit messages) should be left at home.
1. Sending special emails or Valentine’s cards
As tempting as it may be to make your feelings known, sending a physical note or email is not always the best idea. This amorous holiday often comes with sweet threats to your career if you don’t respond well to someone’s advances. Also, any nearby coworker who becomes offended by something you considered hilarious could file a complaint.
Example: Anita received an email a few days before Valentine’s Day from her boss, who already had a history of pressuring her for sex. Something about the email put her on edge so she declined the meeting. The day after Valentine’s, Anita opened another email from the same boss, which read, “I had flowers and chocolate for you, but I dumped them, just like my feelings for you.”
2. Gifting chocolates or stuffed animals
Over the years of Valentine’s Day marketing, each of these gifts have gained a certain connotation with being romantically suggestive. Over the top gestures can push a coworker or employee to file a sexual harassment claim.
Example: Janelle entered her office on Valentine’s Day to discover a pink teddy bear and heart-shaped box of chocolates. A musical card from her boss sang her a love song. Janelle complained to the HR department about the suggestive gifts. Her boss was disciplined.
3. Singling out a coworker or boss
If you love Valentine’s Day or just want a reason to celebrate, treat everyone in your department or group. Don’t single out one person for your Valentine shenanigans. Due to the holidays ties to love and romance, singling one coworker out can feel suggestive, overwhelming, and harassing.
Example: Joel works with mostly women. On Valentine’s Day, he arrived to work to find his desk plastered with pink hearts. His was the only desk with such decoration. Joel didn’t appreciate the extra attention, and he began to feel harassed.
4. Wearing inappropriate and offensive Valentine’s messages
Many businesses have dress codes. However, for a holiday, sometimes dress codes are relaxed. Too much skin or writing on clothing can pose a problem for Human Resources. If you want to celebrate the holiday, stick with simple solid colors in addition to your professional clothing.
Example: Matilda arrived at the office on Valentine’s Day, and her coworker came into her office wearing a t-shirt that read “Be my Valentine” with a gun pictured. When her coworker asked Matilda out for a Valentine’s lunch, she didn’t feel like she could say no. The shirt felt like a threat.
5. Delivering flowers to the shared office space
Some workers are highly sensitive to flowery scents. Valentine’s Day can be a literal headache for them with so many coworkers receiving flowers. Failure to be sensitive to another coworker’s allergy needs could be a hostile work environment claim.
Example: Leonard gets migraines from flowers. On Valentine’s Day, his adjoining cubicle coworkers received giant bouquets of flowers. Leonard asked them to move the flowers out of the shared room, but they didn’t. Within an hour of the arrival of the bouquets, Leonard had a pounding migraine and had to go home for the day.
When you feel unsafe or harassed in your work environment, this can be good reason to make a complaint to the human resources department or your supervisor. In response to your complaint, your employer should investigate and take steps to resolve the problem. If no steps are taken to do this, reach out to an employment lawyer and he or she will provide potential legal solutions.