Image: Leon Israel Image: Leon Israel

Employment law specialists are advising businesses that inappropriate Valentine’s Day messages sent between work colleagues could lead to serious complaints and employment tribunals.

Lauren Pickard, senior associate at hlw Keeble Hawson, is urging employers to ensure that their staff fully understand what is acceptable behavior - and what could constitute crossing the line.

She stresses that the prevailing public mood following recent high profile harassment cases further increases the risk of a risqué card or gift leading to accusations of harassment or bullying.

Lauren said: “Sensitivities are high in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein headlines and publicity following the Presidents Club event in London. In light of this, there is a real danger that a message, however innocently intended, could cause the recipient to feel they are being harassed or intimidated.”

Recent cases include an employment tribunal awarding an employee £10,000 after ruling that a lewd message written from a manager in a birthday card was a form of sexual harassment. A subsequent survey of 2,000 employees commissioned by the BBC found that 53 per cent of women and 20 per cent of men said they had experienced sexual harassment, ranging from inappropriate comments to actual sexual assaults, at work or a place of study.

Lauren added: “Sexual harassment can include requests for sexual favours, unwelcome sexual advances and other forms of verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

“What might be considered by the sender to be harmless office banter could be construed very differently by the recipient and in the eyes of the law. It is always good practice to keep staff guidance on what is, and what is not, appropriate in the workplace, up to date and to ensure that all employees understand it.”

See also: Valentine’s Day: a fine line between romance and sexual harassment