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Kynzie Sims

Kynzie Sims Legal Content Product Manager

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#MeToo, Sexual Harassment and Valentine's Day

Ten years ago, the biggest romance on television was an office romance: The Office romance. Every week, millions of viewers watched coworkers Jim and Pam flirt, grow close, and cast pining looks toward each other, until—FYI: spoilers ahead—the two shared a kiss and eventually dated, got married, and had children together.

The Office remains charming and hilarious—not to mention instructive for workforce compliance, in terms of what not to do—but it’s difficult to imagine that Jim and Pam’s relationship would play out the same way if the show aired today. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have brought new attention to the pervasive problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. Many people are beginning to reevaluate workplace conduct they would have considered “harmless” flirtation just a few years ago. While Pam and Jim entered their relationship consensually, a writing team in 2018 would need to reckon with the message they could be sending would-be Jims who use a fictional love story to justify their behavior toward unreciprocating Pams. Then again, we have Michael Scott as counterpoint.

Point is: employees at all levels need to be aware that real life is not a sitcom. There are real power dynamics and real experiences of harassment and assault to take into account.

If you’ve been reading our ongoing series about workplace harassment, you understand the magnitude of these issues. Given the current climate, it’s no surprise that office romance has reached a 10-year low, as CNBC reports. But with Valentine’s Day ahead, now is the time to pay special attention to the distinction between workplace camaraderie and workplace harassment, and to stay vigilant in addressing behaviors that may cross the line.

Here are 3 articles to read before you think about breaking out the candy hearts:

Valentine’s Day is a great day to express your love for the people who mean the most to you. It’s also a great day to break sexual harassment laws, writes Lahle Wolfe. At The Balance, Wolfe shares some practical tips and considerations for ensuring your workplace remains a respectful, compliant, and non-humiliating environment on Valentine’s Day. Her advice? Keep those expressions of love outside the office whenever possible. Skip the cards and gifts, especially for people who work for or above you.

Read the article: Sexual Harassment Laws and Valentine's Day

“Valentine’s Day has played a major role in some rather bad judgment calls by supervisors and subordinates alike.The holiday seems to give some people the impression that they have license to make moves they normally wouldn’t, all in the name of love, loneliness or who knows what.”

That’s according to Society for Human Resource Management knowledge manager Shari Lau, who believes we should see this week as “National Sexual Harassment Training Week.” In an excellent column from a couple years back, Lau gives advice to employers about how to conduct anti-harassment training, institute an equitable office dating policy, and handle Valentine’s Day at work.

Read the article: A Dangerous Affair

Are hugs appropriate in the workplace? A recent Florida Today article posed the question to several business owners and HR professionals. Some welcome hugs from their colleagues; others prefer handshakes. Consistency matters, too: if a hugger only hugs female employees, a sexual harassment claim may not be far away. In short, whether hugs are appropriate depends on whom you ask. And that, by itself, means the answer is “probably not.”

Read the article: Is the 'business hug' headed for extinction? Mixed opinions on when to go beyond the handshake

To read this article and determine the sexual harassment risk at your place of business, please visit


Amanda Gordon

Thank you for the info Kynzie. There is certainly a change in the atmosphere with the current movements in action. Not sure yet if they are positive or the latter. 

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