Every February Dunkin Donuts bombards us with television commercials touting their heart-shaped sprinkle covered donuts and lattes. In one such spot, a love-struck casualty awkwardly blurts out, “I Love you” as his smiling co-worker offers one of these sweet Valentine’s Day delights.
With Valentine’s Day comes the enumerable exchange of e-mails, cards, candies, flowers – and yes, donuts and lattes – in workplaces across America. While love may bloom from these seemingly harmless gestures, what if your company prohibits workplace relationships; or you prefer your latte sprinkle-free; or worse, your acceptance of that donut is misinterpreted and results in a hostile work environment.
Company Policies Prohibiting Workplace Relationships
In order to avoid even the appearance of unfair influence, favoritism or nepotism, companies often institute policies prohibiting dating in the workplace. These policies can also serve to avoid the hostile work environment, gender discrimination and retaliation claims that can arise if and when workplace relationships go south.
While most no-dating policies prohibit supervisory/subordinate relationships, a company is free to tailor these policies as they see fit as long as they are not applied in a discriminatory manner.
Recognizing that office romances may develop despite company prohibitions (like telling your teenage son/daughter they are not allowed to date someone), or maybe because we spend so much time at work it should be a place where relationships are allowed to blossom (President Obama met the First Lady at the Chicago law firm where they worked together), some employers have resorted to asking couples to sign “Love Contracts” acknowledging that the relationship is consensual (talk about awkward) to avoid legal claims including sexual harassment.
Hostile Work Environment
So what if you politely accept that Valentine’s Day donut not realizing that your co-worker sees it as membership into the do”nut” of the week club? While it may be another year before you have to endure those Dunkin Donuts commercials, he or she is now bombarding you with a regular dose of propositions, emails, leers, winks, etc. What do you do?
The first thing to do is to firmly let your co-worker know that you are not interested in anything other than a professional relationship and that his/her conduct is making you uncomfortable.
If that is not enough to send a clear message, you must bring the behavior to the attention of a supervisor or the company’s human resources department. The company now has an obligation to investigate your complaint and do something to make sure the behavior stops. While the company may not be able to guarantee complete confidentiality, it should make sure that any retaliation will result in severe disciplinary action including discharge.
If the unwelcome behavior continues, or if you find yourself the victim of some form of retaliation – for instance, further harassment or isolation, a demotion, cut in pay/hours, transfer or discharge – contact an attorney or your local Equal Employment Opportunity office.
While it’s a bummer to think about these issues on Valentine’s Day, in reality, they frequently arise in the workplace.
What are your thoughts on “no-dating in the workplace” policies? Please share your comments or questions below.
Ralph A. Somma is a Long Island, NY employment lawyer who handles workplace law cases. If you’re working in a hostile work environment please Click Here to schedule a FREE telephone consultation.
About the Author: Ralph A. Somma Ralph A. Somma is an experienced employment lawyer from Long Island, New York. For over 20 years, Ralph has been working to enforce workplace rights in New York and Long Island.