Valentine’s Day In A Pandemic: What Employers Should Know

Law360, February 11, 2021, by Vin Gurrieri — Though the COVID-19 pandemic has cut down the potential for the in-person office affairs that have long bedeviled employers, last year’s telework explosion sent technology-based misbehavior rocketing up companies’ list of worries. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, experts look at how the pandemic is changing the face of office relationships.

Office romances have long been a tricky area for employers’ human resources departments to navigate since it involves wading, to some degree, into employees’ personal lives. While some relationships between colleagues can blossom into long-term commitments, employers have long been wary of courtships that turn sour, affairs between supervisors and subordinates that involve power imbalances and misbegotten attempts at striking a relationship that involve unwanted sexual overtures.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has turned many of the traditional legal and operational challenges employers face on their head, especially as scores of employees have shifted over the past year to working from home.

“Anything that’s harassment in person, it can be accomplished via online or otherwise,” said Laura Jacobsen, co-chair of McDonald Carano LLP’s employment and labor practice.

“Employees are maybe more willing to engage in harassing conduct over video, for example, than they would be in person because I think it feels more private,” Jacobsen said. “And at the same time, I’ve also seen a downtick in claims because people aren’t in an office interacting, so you’re not seeing the ‘brushed up against you’ type of harassment claim or that kind of thing.”

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