There’s no doubt about it… This time of year, love is in the air, even in the workplace. Sex and romance can take on a few forms at your office – some welcomed, some not. Spanning from mutual attraction to sexual harassment, knowing how to handle sex in the workplace can be confusing.
Here are three difference scenarios that may affect you or your organization:
A legitimate romance
Most people spend the majority of their workday interacting with fellow employees, and it’s not uncommon for some relationships to turn romantic and eventually sexual. Historically, company policies regarding interoffice romance were more relaxed. However, many organizations today require employees to follow a stricter protocol, and for good reason. Protecting staff from nepotism if a couple stays together or loss of productivity if a relationship goes south makes good business sense.
If you’re falling for a coworker, consider this:
- Know your company’s policy and make sure you follow it. If a formal policy doesn’t exist, find out where upper management stands on the issue.
- Inform you superior before telling others. Giving your boss this courtesy can open the door to productive communication on the subject going forward keeping everything above board.
- Be professional during office hours. It may be tempting to touch or exchange sentiments, especially early on, but remember where you are. The goal is to ensure your relationship doesn’t hinder workflow or make others uncomfortable.
- Explore your options. A break up can be hard, but a break up at work can be detrimental to your career and position if you aren’t able to handle working together anymore. On the other hand, what if you marry this person? In either case, be open to looking for another job, internally or externally, for the good of all.
The close working relationship that often develops between employees can turn sexual, and sometimes in the form of an affair. In this scenario, one or both parties have a relationship outside of the affair, complicating matters exponentially. This can lead to a host of problems for your organization.
Here are some tips if two people in your department are involved in an affair:
- Review company policy on fraternization between employees, relationships between those in the same department, or between a superior and their subordinates. Understanding the parameters will allow you to better address the situation at hand.
- Confront parties involved in unprofessional behavior. Let them know that if they can’t carry out their responsibilities or are making others uncomfortable, you’ll need to report it.
- Investigate promptly. If a subordinate comes to you with a complaint, don’t sit on it. Ask HR to open an investigation into the matter. The legal department may need to become involved.
- Know the consequences. In many cases, management chooses to look the other way, leaving coworkers to handle the fallout. But an affair left unchecked can lead to sexual harassment claims, complaints from other coworkers, and company involvement in divorce proceedings, particularly if the offender is in a leadership position.
Sometimes sex in the workplace takes a darker turn. This can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and any verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. These days, sexual harassment in the workplace is center stage, and for good reason.
According to a recent study, 54% of people surveyed experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. Of those, 12% received a threat of termination if they didn’t comply with the advances, or if they reported the offense.
Furthermore, did you know that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 deems sexual harassment as discrimination, and therefore illegal in companies with more than 15 employees?
If you or someone you know feels they’re a victim of sexual harassment at work, here are some steps to take:
- Inform the offender that their behavior is unwelcome. In some cases, that may be enough to end it.
- Alert your superior, or HR, without delay if the offensive behavior continues or is more serious in nature, such as physical advances. In addition, make sure to follow the proper protocol to file an official report with your organization.
- Bring in the experts. Sometimes the offender is the person you report to. In this case, if your company has an HR Department, speak with a representative about filing a report.
- Don’t give up. If the steps above either aren’t possible or don’t resolve the situation, consider filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
This month, go ahead and celebrate with those you love, but make sure sex in the workplace isn’t an issue in your organization. Responsible behavior can only help your business succeed.
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