It is 9 am. The secretary reports to her desk. Waiting for her is a sealed card.
The secretary opens the envelope and it is a Valentine's card from her manager. Having undergone sensitivity training, the manager signs it "fondly" as opposed to "lovingly."
The employee is creeped out and goes to HR. HR talks with the manager based on a script we had prepared together.
HR asks the manager if he knows why the card is inappropriate. He responds "no."
HR asks the manager to whom else he gave a Valentine's card and he answers his wife. Again, it is asked: do you know why card was inappropriate? Again, he answers "no."
We now take out the crow bar. Is there anything you do with your wife in privacy that you don't do with secretary? Ding. Ding. Ding.
Every year, we get 1 or 2 calls about harassment claims arising out of Valentine's Day cards. Employees can be so sensitive when their bosses tell them:
To the love of my life
I cherish our moments together
I love you
Recommendation: no Valentine's day cards at work. This is particularly important with regard to supervisory-subordinate relationships.
Of course, that does not mean that everyone who sends a Valentine’s day card is intending to convey a romantic message. After all, there are now Valentine’s day cards for parents, kids, etc.
For some, the Valentine’s day card is simply a way to say you are important to me. The problem is the nature of the holiday may confuse the reason as to why the employee is important.
Make clear to your employees, by your words and actions, how important they are to the organization. Recognition and appreciation are the vitamins employees need every day. Just don't tell them that they are the loves of your life. Unless you want a plaintiffs’ lawyer to fall in love with you.
This blog should not be construed as legal advice, pertaining to specific factual situation or establishing an attorney-client relationship.
For more on employment and the law, visit SHRM’s Legal Issues page at http://www.shrm.org/legalissues/Pages/default.aspx.
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