By Daniel Hunter

Valentine’s Day might be the day to woo the object of your affection, but for bosses, February 14 is getting more and more treacherous by the year.

That’s because the cards and flowers which staff would occasionally use to reveal their affection for a colleague are now being replaced with messages sent over online social networks, emails or text messages.

And for employers, that makes it all the more difficult to monitor the first signs of an online romance or, worse, of inappropriate jokes or harassment.

“Valentine’s Day might be the most romantic day of the year for some, but for many employers and managers it can be a real headache," Peter Mooney, head of employment law for business support specialist, ELAS, said.

“No matter how heartfelt the affections are — and sometimes they’re far from genuine — if a message is capable of causing offence, then it can quickly become a serious matter.

“For that reason, it’s difficult to define in advance what is acceptable and what isn’t. What bosses need to do is keep their ears to the ground, and look for signs whether Valtentine’s messages are causing any of their staff blushes, laughter or offence.

“Even with a discreetly delivered card, any manager who is close to their team gets to know about it fairly quickly. But with social networks and text messages, it’s difficult to know what’s going on — if anything.”

Mr Mooney said that employers should concentrate on providing a workplace that is free from intimidating, degrading or offensive behaviour.

They should also remind staff that what may seem like friendly banter or an innocent compliment could be construed as inappropriate or unwelcome sexual attention — which could lead to disciplinary action.

Managers should also be reminded to be vigilant about any behaviour which could be construed as inappropriate, and remember that the victims could be men, or that any problems could be between same-sex colleagues.

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