Valentines for employers (avoiding a harassment claim)

Sure it is wonderful for your staff to be smiling and happy about where the next anonymous card is going to come from but what is the difference between harmless fun and sexual harassment.

The answer is that there is no answer. One person’s idea of being romanced might be another person’s worst nightmare.

The Equality Act of 2010 gives us some guidance. It says that harassment is ‘unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating and intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual’.

In simple terms it is unwanted attention. It doesn’t matter how sweet or thoughtful a person thinks they are being when trying to woo another, if the recipient does not want this attention it may be deemed as harassment.

This means flowers, songs, special attention, touching and in one case where I represented an employer it even meant unwanted gifts of pizza.

Most businesses have policies about harassment but this in itself does not eliminate an employer from blame or a claim. Policies need to be implemented in order to show that you have complied with your duty as an employer.

This means:

  • Giving examples to staff  of what might be considered harassment.
  • Having a zero tolerance attitude to harassment.
  • Regular training about harassment.
  • Having a clear system of reporting harassment.
  • Treating claims of  harassment sensitively and seriously.

That being said try not to stand in the way of true love.

For further tips visit our website at or follow @jemmafairhay on twitter