As the world rejoices and celebrates the month of love, it is always a good rule of thumb to keep St. Valentine out of the workplace. While there is no harsh rule denying the employers and employees a friendly exchange of greetings and pleasantries over Valentine’s day, it comes as no surprise that the line of professionalism has seldom been crossed in the spirit of festivities.
Be it by way of intrusive personal questions, inappropriate jokes, sexually coloured remarks, hugs and other physical gestures, or even valentine’s gifts and greetings; though harmless prima facie, they can be perceived by any person as unwelcome and if sexual in nature, can be treated as an act of sexual harassment at work.
However, this is not to say that every casual minutia surrounding the day is under a microscope. Individuals are simply advised to curtail their acts and expressions of gratitude and approval within the permissible limits of workplace culture. Such limits may depend on the interpersonal relations between employees and differ amongst all. For instance, a simple acknowledgement of Valentine’s amongst co-workers who happen to be friends cannot be adjudged in the same category as a boss forcefully hugging all his female employees and vehemently wishing the same.
The keyword which bifurcates interactions into groups of acceptable and unacceptable is “unwelcome.” If an act, which is sexual in nature, even if the intentions were platonic, is interpreted by the complainant as unwelcome, the same could open the field for allegations of sexual harassment. It is possible that innocent acts may be misconstrued, and things may escalate in directions neither party wants. This bears repeating as one needs to be evermore careful under the scrutiny surrounding this occasion and the current social climate in India, with people on edge after the exposure of the harsh realities of sexual harassment in workplaces.
Basically, it is important to disregard your preconceived notions regarding this day dating back to your school days, where exchanging valentine’s cards amongst all was a well-practiced and anticipated ritual. At a workplace, the comfort and safety of the inhabitants comes first. The festivities shouldn’t cross the periphery of individual relations. It is best if cupid is contained and not allowed to disturb the sanctity of the workplace. Let this be your gentle reminder that February 14th is just like any other day at the office!