top of page

Flirting or Forcing Affection

Happy Valentine’s Day!  A time to express our feelings of love, adoration, and interest towards others.  Whether you are the expressor, or cupid’s target, the intent is to make others feel that glowing warmth of affection, plutonic or not. 

Most of us work on this day.  I don’t know of a single organization that offers Valentine’s Day off as a recognized holiday.  With the spirit of love overflowing into our workdays in the workplace, what could possibly go wrong, and what can an employer do about it?

First, romantic relationships sometimes form and bloom in the workplace.  This sounds sweet and lovely.  Afterall, we want our employees to form healthy relationships with each other, right?!  Let’s look at the possible negatives. 

Romantic interests that are one-way can cause discomfort for both parties.  The employee that is interested in the other may wonder if their approach will be rejected, or if they will get in trouble for pursuing, from their employer.  This goes for both at work and off-the-clock actions.  On the flip side, the apple of that person’s eye may feel flattered, or may feel a sense of an invasion on their personal space, embarrassed, stressed to have to turn down the other’s advances, or feeling a threat to their safety.  When advances go too far or too long, it can become sexual harassment.  What/who defines too far or too long?  It is defined by the perception of the victim.   

Let’s look at a mutually agreed upon romantic relationship.  First, perceived preferential treatment can occur.  “You got a raise only because you are sleeping with the boss.”  Second, potential lack of focus on the work itself can be another problem.  As example, a couple too busy flirting to get their work done.  Third, the temptation of “pillow talk” can happen which involves sharing sensitive or confidential information with your love interest who does not have a need to know.  And finally, what happens when that loving relationship ends?  There could be major conflict between the two or it could also spread throughout the entire team.  Further, there can also be claims of sexual harassment and retaliation by the jilted insubordinate party.  “I was denied the promotion because my ex-girlfriend is my boss and wanted to punish me.”  This can lead to claims of sexual harassment and retaliation accusations. 

It is important to understand what sexual harassment means.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines it on their website,

“Sexual harassment is unwelcome or unwanted sexual conduct that is either very serious or occurs frequently. The harasser may be another employee, a supervisor, the company owner or even a customer. The harasser may be male or female. The sexual conduct can be verbal, physical, in writing or in pictures. Illegal sexual harassment creates a hostile or intimidating work place and interferes with an employee’s job performance.”

What can an employer do that will set a comfortable culture tone of comradery, teamwork, and collaboration while laying problem preventative groundwork? Organizations can prevent these troubles with policies on personal relationships at work, and on sexual harassment, that are well thought out, clear, regularly and professionally communicated, and bravely referenced towards compliance.  While developing the policies, Stephen Simpon, principal employment law editor at XpertHR reminds us in his article in Personnel Today, “The policy needs to strike a tricky balance between protecting the employer’s legitimate business interests and the rights of employees to a private life.”   

As I am updating my 3-part training program on harassment: Sexual, Discriminatory, and Bullying, for an upcoming workshop, I am reminded of the importance of employers to follow these critical steps to prevent potential litigation involving sexual harassment:

1.      Develop policies, including sexual harassment and personal workplace relationships.

2.      Provide training on these policies, promptly upon hire and annually to all levels of staff thereafter, by a qualified and impactful trainer.

3.      Regularly review policies and training programs and update as necessary.

If you would like HR consulting or training on this topic or other topics, contact me at HR Solutions | Contact Us ( 

Have a Blessed Day!

Deborah Jenkins, PHR, SHRM-CP

Founder | HR Consultant

HR Solutions, LLC


bottom of page