Monday, as Hallmark continues to remind us, is Valentine’s Day. A day of love, a day of relationships, and a day of romantic thoughts. Or, as I like to also say, another opportunity to blog about workplace considerations for your company.
So what’s the problem? We have regularly discussed and posted about the impact of social media on office parties and events, generally focusing on those end-of-the-year holiday parties. But this time of year similarly warrants some discussion, as Valentine’s Day is often fraught with textbook examples of sexual harassment and discrimination claims in the workplace. Cases have been brought over the years to address claims when one employee has given another employee a “suggestive” gift or card, or even a nice looking bouquet of flowers, on Valentine’s Day. Court dockets have also been filled with claims of unwelcomed harassment by an employee who was made to listen to another’s detailed depiction of an ideal Valentine’s Day night, or the extent to which one might have to remedy a bout of loneliness on the holiday.
We now know that social media has not simply added new potential causes of action to the lexicon, but has also served as a new forum for traditional claims to materialize. In that vein, social media, and particularly employee blogs and social networking sites, may be rife with opportunities for one to engage in unwelcomed harassment of another employee, even unintentionally. Picture, for example, the “shy” employee who may not be so quick to stand before another and engage in harassing behavior face-to-face, but might instead engage in inappropriate behavior from the comfort of his or her home keyboard.
This entry will hopefully not be taken as the musings of a Valentine’s Day scrooge, but instead as a prophylactic effort to remind employers about the dangers inherent with the increased use of social media on holidays such as these. Employers always strive to toe the line between operating a formal, Orwellian-like workplace, and the desire to maintain good morale in an informal setting that allows for holiday parties and off-the-cuff banter. Still, the more you can maintain the proper balance, and remind those in your employ that the workplace must still remain a professional, lawful environment – even when it comes to communications outside the four walls of your office – the more likely it is that your company can avoid legal exposure.
Employer Take Away: What should you as an employer take away from this development? It is critical that you make sure your company’s social media policies clearly articulate that anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies apply equally to conduct and statements made online, and particularly through social networking sites and other forms of social media. It is also important (and, in many jurisdictions, required) that you regularly train your employees on issues such as harassment and the impact of social media on workplace harassment, and be sensitive to cues of inappropriate behavior both in the physical workplace, and through online communications.