New Zealand Law Society - It's not Love, Actually

It's not Love, Actually

This article is over 3 years old. More recent information on this subject may exist.

Evil masked character with machette and love hearts

Sleepless in Seattle, Love Actually, You’ve Got Mail - in all of these movies, gifting unsigned notes, bouquets and trying to, almost obsessively, win over unrequited love is considered romantic.

However, if you take those situations, throw it in the “Thriller/Drama” section, and add Glenn Close, you could very well end up with Fatal Attraction. OK, maybe not, but you could end up with a serious sexual harassment grievance.

Valentine’s Day activities can be considered ‘innocent fun’ for some and unwelcome and unwanted for others.

“The ‘love of their life’ may not reciprocate those feelings, nor find a Valentine present appropriate," says employment lawyer Andrea Twaddle, a Director at DTI Lawyers.

“The thought of someone anonymously noticing, or having feelings for you, can be disconcerting, and creepy.”

I'll be watching you...

Fun Fact: When The Police’s 1983 hit song Every Breath You Take was released, many people thought it was a love song; nothing says “I love you” more than the statement “Every breath you take, every move you make, I'll be watching you” (possibly through a window).

“Repeated and unwanted contact can constitute sexual harassment," says Andrea Twaddle.

“Valentine’s Day comes once a year, but you will be seeing your colleagues for many days and hours after the fact. Therefore, it pays to keep behaviour professional, even on Valentine’s Day.”

That said, how does an office manager allow Valentine’s Day activities without being a complete killjoy?

“A general discussion about expectations of how staff conduct themselves at work or circulating relevant policy would be a constructive way to go”, says Andrea.

“Such a policy might include an expectation of disclosure on office relationships, to enable the employer to minimise risks that could arise as a consequence, such as allegations of ‘playing favourites’, or a supervisor ‘taking advantage’.

“As an employer, you don’t want to be managing a claim that stems from an unfortunate Valentine’s Day incident. Set a positive workplace culture, taking the opportunity to know what behaviour is acceptable and not.”

Be a good host

When organising any Valentine’s Day “work drinks”, it is wise to keep your hosting responsibilities in check. 

“Ensuring plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks are available, not serving intoxicated staff, ensuring a sober manager is present, and that everyone has access to a safe ride home are simple but effective steps”, says Andrea.

“Employers are responsible for taking reasonably practicable steps to ensure that employees have a safe and healthy work environment. This should be free from behaviour such as sexual harassment. Address any issues promptly. Investigate allegations in a full and fair way, being mindful of the need for confidentiality around allegations of sexual harassment and their investigation.”

A great way to keep emotions and behaviour in check is to set a positive workplace culture when it comes to office behaviour. Having a zero-tolerance stance on sexual harassment goes a long way if you want to reinforce your employee's behaviour on romantic days like this.

“Setting a great workplace culture is a collective responsibility, and can make sure that the fun remains, without incident and any awkward aftermath,” Andrea Twaddle says.