UK: Valentine's Day – A Retrospective Guide For Employers

Last Updated: 22 February 2019
Article by David Whincup

So did Valentine's Day bring you everything you expected from it? Cards? Roses? Notice of Early Conciliation?

Every year we are asked by anxious employers whether it is sensible to prohibit employees sending each other Valentine's Day cards and so now we must finally and definitively make it clear, without a shadow of further doubt or any room for uncertainty, that it all depends.

The employment relations answer is that even though it is unquestionably legally the safest course, actually prohibiting Valentine's Day cards across the board is about as King-Canute feasible as instructing staff not to catch each other's eye. Some vast proportion of us meet our intended at work because that is where we spend most of our time, and nothing in a policy is going to change that.

However, not prohibiting Valentine's Day cards does not mean that they can be sent with a Purge-style lack of legal consequences. Harassment is harassment whether or not it takes place on Valentine's Day.

As always, though, it is necessary to have regard to context in determining if an unsolicited card constitutes harassment or not. By section 26 Equality Act, A harasses B if A engages in unwanted conduct of a sexual nature and that conduct has the effect (i.e. no intention necessary) of violating B's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or offensive environment for B. In considering whether A's conduct had that effect, the Tribunal must take into account B's perceptions, the other circumstances of the case and whether it is reasonable for A's conduct to have that effect.

No one has a right not to be found attractive by a colleague, so those questions of reasonableness and "other circumstances" must depend not on the fact of the attraction but upon who expresses it and (in particular) how it is done. Remember that by their very nature, almost all Valentine's Day cards come with emotional or sexual overtones very different from a first casual invitation for a drink, whatever its ulterior purpose. This leaves us with these tips in good time for 14 February 2020:

  • Just as in real life (the other 364 days of the year), consider how you want to come across – genuine but entirely platonic affection, yearning Romeo or overt sex-pest – and choose your cards and words carefully. The shop next to our office had a rack of Valentine's Day trifles prominently labelled "The cards your mother warned you about", so if you give one of those you have only yourself to blame if it is poorly received. At the other end of the spectrum you can have ickle pastel bunny rabbits holding hands over "Together forever" or something equally loathsome. Show a bit of class, for Heaven's sake, and remember when buying and writing your card that you will potentially next see it as evidence against you in the Employment Tribunal.
  • The more overt your Valentine's Day overture, the more embarrassing it is for the recipient and the greater his or her ability to claim that necessary violation of dignity or humiliating environment. Decades ago one of my then colleagues made the proverbial grand romantic gesture and filled another's room to the rafters with those heart balloons on legs. She was apoplectic.
  • Remember the risk of being seen to abuse your position. Cards from senior employees to those much younger and/or junior to them will inevitably carry with them (whether intended or not) a most regrettable degree of implied obligation on the part of the recipient.
  • You can create an argument that the careful expression of attraction is not necessarily harassment, but you cannot defend continued pursuit of the point if it is not reciprocated. I think it was Einstein who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again while hoping for different results, and the Tribunal will inevitably take a similar view.
  • If your card did not land as you had hoped but was met instead by an icy silence, derisive laughter or a grievance, then apologise immediately and do your best to carry on as if nothing had happened. If you retreat wounded and cut off contact with the other party or – especially if you are their senior – otherwise treat them less favourably, then that will be a clear-cut case of discrimination.
  • And last, if you are hearing a grievance round about now concerning an unwelcome Valentine's Day card, do keep an eye on those issues of context in determining the appropriate outcome. A mortifyingly crude and public Valentine's Day overture from senior employee to junior, plus unsolicited follow-up, is a very different practical and legal proposition from a discreet and respectful card from a peer who is entirely willing to take no for an answer without letting it spoil the relationship. One is a serious disciplinary matter while the other, realistically, is not.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions