Managing Valentine’s Day in the workplace can be complicated for HR departments and employers. With something so personal as relationships, it is never clear where to draw the line on what is appropriate conduct and what isn’t. A gesture such as a card or a box of chocolates might be appreciated by some but can make others uncomfortable. Even consensual relationships can lead to consequences, such as the firing of McDonalds CEO, Stephen Easterbrook, in November 2019.
The last thing a business needs is a sexual harassment complaint from an employee. So, how can employers and business owners protect their employees, their business and themselves?
The Importance of Policies and Documentation
While having a specific policy for Valentine’s Day is unwarranted, all Canadian businesses should have a workplace violence and harassment policy and program. Provincial occupational health and safety legislation and human rights legislation requires employers to protect their employees from risks to their safety and discrimination, and this involves having policies and prevention programs in place.
Policies protect businesses by informing staff of the rules and demonstrating that the employer did their due diligence in preserving the health and safety of their workers. A workplace violence and harassment policy lowers the risk of inappropriate conduct during Valentine’s Day; employers can use it to go over what constitutes sexual harassment with employees beforehand and to assert that misbehaviour will not be tolerated.
Among other requirements, a workplace violence and harassment policy must forbid offensive and unwelcome verbal and physical conduct. If business owners are not aware of their full obligations under their provincial legislation, they should seek consultation from professionals to ensure they are complying with the law.
Best Practices for Businesses
To minimize risks of inappropriate behaviour, employers and managers can send out a communication acknowledging the upcoming celebration and reminding employees of company policies. As part of their workplace violence and harassment program, there should be systems in place through which employees can voice their concerns to management and employers should encourage staff to come forward should any issues arise.
In regard to appropriate conduct and relationships, management should advise staff to keep behavior professional, avoid singling out individuals, refrain from public displays of affection in the workplace and to keep relationships with coworkers private until they are comfortable sharing it with the rest of the company.
If a business wants to have a Valentine’s Day celebration in the workplace, management should stick to respectful and inclusive activities. For example, having a bake sale, encouraging staff to wear themed colours, or giving out sweets to all staff are some simple and appropriate ways for them to participate.
Have more questions about managing employees on Valentine’s Day?
Our HR experts can help you keep your business protected and your employees safe. Contact us today to get advice from an HR professional on any employment matter: 1 (833) 247-3652.