WeAreTheCity, a website supporting the female job pipeline, published a blog article in time for Valentine's Day by Senior Litigation Counsel Georgina Calvert-Lee on how to identify sexual harassment in the workplace when faced with romantic gestures. Calvert-Lee reminds readers 'that harassment is when someone behaves in a way which makes you feel distressed, humiliated or threatened' and that this behaviour is not always as overt as unwanted physical contact or demeaning language. Flirting and romantic gestures can also have this effect.
Harassment depends on context. In the case of love notes, Calvert-Lee suggests breaking the question into smaller pieces. Who's the sender (colleague, old friend, or superior with a reputation for hitting on subordinates)? What's the content (a message with discomfiting language)? The form (brief email or a special gift)? The recipients (are you singled out or one of many)? The delivery method (open and friendly, or secret and intimate)? And what's the overall pattern of behaviour (one odd note, or many gestures that make you uncomfortable)? 'No single factor makes that love note harassing', Calvert-Lee continues, 'It's about how all the factors combine and make you feel in your workplace; how the messages are received by you'.
Calvert-Lee concludes by emphasising that employees should know that the law is on their side in redressing sexual harassment, and that should keep copies of messages they think might be harassing: 'You might want to talk to your HR manager, and it's always good to have proof to back up what concerns you. And no one is allowed to retaliate against you for making this kind of complaint'.