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Love, Lust, and Valentine’s Day
Posted 02.09.17
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Jonathan A. Segal
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I am pleased to share my latest post to the SHRM blog.

There were times when I cautioned HR to keep a firewall between Valentine’s Day and the workplace. The reason for the caution is the initial purpose of Valentine’s Day.

We all know that the initial purpose of Valentine’s Day was for individuals to express their love to those whom they love in a non-platonic way. I was tempted to say romantic, but I once had a manager deny there was any romantic relationship because “it was only sex.”

Over time, however, the meaning of Valentine’s Day has changed. Just look at cards to parents, grandparents, kids, etc. There is no sexual message.

Many employees acknowledge the day too by simply saying “have a nice Valentine’s Day.” I don’t think they mean: “I want you here and now.”

And, some managers will bring in Valentine’s candy or other treats. I don’t think they have any predatory motive.

So, I am not sure it is reasonable to say Valentine’s Day has no place in the workplace. Does that not make an employer seem excessively restrictive? And that may have an unintended effect of undermining critical restrictions.

But here are 8 guard rails to consider as we approach Valentine’s Day:

  1. Okay to say Happy Valentine’s Day. I would avoid happy V.D.
  2. Better to say Happy Valentine’s Day to a group than an individual. You don’t want anyone to feel singled out.
  3. Be thoughtful not only on what you say but also how you say it. An accompanying wink can make earnings disappear in a blink.
  4. Managers should be more careful if, when and how. Perhaps respond only but don’t initiate.
  5. Managers should never send a card, e-mail or social media message to a subordinate over whom they have direct or indirect authority. Most certainly the card should not include an audio of I Honestly Love You.
  6. Never ask anyone who their Valentine is or whether they have one, unless you want to be a defendant.
  7. Any food you might bring in can be shared without fanfare. Don’t need to say anything. The food will speak for itself.
  8. Remember, not everyone has a “Valentine” in the traditional sense. While not having an intimate partner is not a “protected group,” such individuals are human beings who matter. Be thoughtful on how such individuals may feel when we share what is a common bond to most but not all.

The business world is becoming painfully competitive. Sometimes businesses get lost in defining and crowing about their cultures without genuinely caring for people who compose it.

No, HR does not need to coddle employees, but we need to help bring back some of the warmth in our workplaces that has been replaced by an increase in harassing behaviors, bullying and political infighting.

That we need to be careful on Valentine’s Day not to send intended to unintended romantic messages does not mean that our workplaces would not benefit if our words and actions manifested the love we feel in our hearts.

If you share metaphorically a little love in your heart:
And the work world will be a better place
And the work world will be a better place
For you and me
You just wait and see

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About Jonathan A. Segal
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Jonathan A. Segal is a partner at Duane Morris LLP in the Employment Group. He is also the managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute. The Duane Morris Institute provides training for human resource professionals, in-house counsel, and other leaders at client sites and by way of webinar on myriad employment, leadership labor, benefits and immigration topics. Jonathan has served intermittently as a consultant to the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, D.C. for more than 20 years, providing training on employment issues to federal judges around the country. Jonathan also has provided training on harassment on behalf of the EEOC as well as providing training on diversity to members of the United States intelligence agencies. Jonathan is also frequently a featured speaker at national, state and local human resource, business and legal conferences, including conferences sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Pennsylvania State Chamber of Business and Industry. Jonathan’s practice focuses on maximizing compliance and minimizing legal risk. Jonathan’s particular areas of emphasis include: equal employment opportunity in general and gender equality in particular: social media; wage and hour; performance management; talent acquisition; harassment prevention and correction; and non-competes and other ways to protect your business. You can find him on Twitter @Jonathan_HR_Law .