Category Archives: Harassment and Discrimination

Work and Romance: Linked Forever!


It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and no matter how much we want to deny it, that day exists in the workplace as well as everywhere else.  It turns out that something we all suspected and observed is actually true: lots of romance happens at work – and many of those romances end in permanent relationships and marriages.  According to a recent survey by, 40% of those surveyed have dated a co-worker, and one third went on to marry that person.  So, my guess is that the combination of work and romance is likely here to stay.  It also means that the office gossip, accusations of favoritism and allegations of sexual harassment (especially for the 2/3 of those relationships that don’t last) are also here to stay.  What’s an employer to do?

The good news is that there’s a lot you can do.  A few of the most important things are:

  • Provide management and staff with sexual harassment training and give them copies of your policy (you have one, right?); talk specifically about how it applies to workplace romances.  Consider developing a policy about dating in the workplace.
  • Be clear: your harassment or dating policy should forbid relationships between supervisors and their subordinates.  If you work with youth or students, make sure the policy absolutely forbids relationships between them and employees.
  • If a relationship develops between co-workers who work together, address it as soon as you become aware of it.  Meet with the couple, clarify behavior expectations, and move one or both to other work units if at all possible (be sure to talk with them about who will move, and be sure your policy speaks to this).
  • Don’t allow romantic expression (romantic hugs, kisses, whispered sweet nothings…) in the workplace, even between spouses.  It’s simply not appropriate.
  • Reinforce that “no” means “no.”  It means one request for a date or phone number is ok, but if the answer is “no,” there must be no second request, no pursuit of friends to get information about the person, no comments on Facebook.


Obviously, romances at work can be exciting, fun and…well…romantic!  They can also be dangerous and expensive pitfalls waiting for the unprepared employer.  So, be clear and be prepared – and Happy Valentines Day!  ~DS

Just Say Hello

I still remember when a workplace mediator told me many years ago, “Hello is huge.”  What did she mean? She meant that when employees are upset that someone, especially a superior, doesn’t say hello to them, it’s important and shouldn’t be ignored.

The issue can come up in a variety of ways. An employee may complain about it explicitly. Or, more commonly,  HR or management may hear grumbling about a particular supervisor or co-worker’s unfriendliness or complaints about the supervisor’s inaccessibility.  It’s easy to think: “That’s just her personality” or “I can’t regulate social interactions in the workplace” or “It’s not intentional – he’s just preoccupied.”  But that’s not the correct response.

 It’s easy to think: “That’s just her personality” or “I can’t regulate social interactions in the workplace” or “It’s not intentional – he’s just preoccupied.” 

The reason? All human beings need to feel acknowledged. When a supervisor, manager, or co-worker greets an employee, the message being communicated is that the employee has value and importance. When there is no greeting, the opposite message is communicated. And the employee feels it, particularly if it’s a pattern.  This feeling in turn may lead to resentment, conflict, sensitivity to slights, and in some cases, discrimination or other complaints. I’ve worked on discrimination matters that partially involved this very issue.

Fortunately, this problem is easy to solve. People who don’t greet others are usually not bad people – they’re just not aware of the impact of their inaction.  Some brief coaching as to why it’s important and when it’s called for should be sufficient.

This may sound like advice for teaching kindergarteners. And it is. But as we all know, employees often trip over each other by failing to observe the basics of successful human interaction and communication. 

Next time: apologies!   ~AS

The Facebook Challenge

The Problem:  You’re the supervisor of a 10-person work team.  One morning Geraldine comes to tell you that a few minutes ago she and Frank were discussing one of their projects when Sam came in and told them to check out their Facebook pages.  They did, and all found some pictures of themselves (as well as other colleagues) from a party the previous weekend.  One of the pictures showed Geraldine from an angle that almost looks up her skirt, with Frank appearing to look down her blouse.  Both men laughed, and complimented Geraldine on her legs.  She left, and came directly to you to tell you what had happened.  She said she feels violated and angry with both Frank and Sam, as well as with the person who first posted the pictures.  She doesn’t know what to do.

What to do?  First of all, let’s be clear: because these are all work colleagues, and they are showing Geraldine this picture at work, it is work-related even though it’s on  personal Facebook pages and it’s a picture from a non-work party.  Generally speaking,  visiting Facebook at work is not a good idea.  Posting an inappropriate picture of a colleague – even on a non-work site and a non-work setting – is highly inappropriate and could be sexual harassment.  You, as the supervisor, need to be very clear with Sam and Frank that their behavior is unacceptable and needs to stop.  Tell them to delete this picture from their Facebook pages, and to stop showing it to anyone or passing it on.  And, remind Geraldine that she should be careful about who takes her pictures!  Electronic media blurs the line between work and non-work.  But, when it involves colleagues, even in a non-work setting, it can have workplace repercussions.  ~ DS

Holiday Parties: A Risk Management Primer

Word has it that many employers are eliminating or downsizing their holiday parties this year due to the economy.  While that’s hard for the food and beverage industry, it’s good for employers’ risk management.  Why?  Because holiday parties are notorious breeding grounds for harassment claims. 

Several things contribute to this situation.  First, the free flow of alcohol.  Second, the free flow of alcohol.  Third, employees who somehow think that because it’s a party, it’s not work-related.  Fourth, managers who set a bad example for the troops. 

So what’s the solution?  Tame parties are good: lunches, potlucks, white elephant gift exchanges.  If an evening party is the tradition, keep the alcohol to a minimum, coach management on its role model obligations,  and end the party early.   Or just give out gift certificates for a Christmas ham or turkey.  Really boring, but tasty and useful.   ~AS