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Hallmarks of Harassment

As soon as the Hallmark Christmas movie season begins, my life changes. I am immediately more cheerful and convince myself it is okay set out all the Christmas décor including trees.

Yes, that was plural on trees and yes, I am that person. I tune in with the utmost engagement, as if each movie and plot is truly unique. I don’t necessarily wonder if the leading couple will end up together, but I look forward to the plot twist (or complication as we call it in our home) that unfolds around 25 to 30 minutes before the movie ends. The outcomes are always sure, and most of the time sweet as well.

In the midst of me suspending my disbelief, I am often jolted back into the sad reality that if some of these scenarios played out in real life, the complications may have lasting career impacts and monetary losses to organizations. Time and time again, the plot includes a consultant and client falling in love, or a subordinate and manager falling in love all through the course of normal business operations.

Since the movie options are so exhaustive, I will focus on one in particular mostly because I just watched it again for the 7th time a few days ago: A Wish for Christmas. I’ll start with the cringe from this snapshot from the movie:

What is the message of an employee wearing mistletoe on his helmet which he still has on at work in the elevator? Is this foreshadowing that in the Hallmark universe it is perfectly okay for a CEO to have a romantic interest in a junior developer over which he has authority? Yes, it is!

In the real world, an employee wearing the mistletoe could be problematic especially if the employee couples the wearing with actions or words that may be construed as unwelcomed conduct. And that has potential of becoming a harassment complaint.

Per the EEOC, “Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance. Harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee.

  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.

  • Unlawful harassment may occur without economic injury to, or discharge of, the victim.

Back to the junior developer and CEO falling in love. In the Hallmark universe, this is a movie recipe. In the real world, this is a recipe for possible disaster! At the least, this is just a bad idea and blurs all kinds of neutrality and equity. At the worst, it can lead to gossip which reduces productivity and lawsuits. It’s usually all fine until something goes wrong or the relationship ends. Even if the relationship ends due to running its course, there is potential for at the least, a “quid pro quo harassment and/or "hostile work environment" harassment.

When the relationship ends, the junior developer may claim that they were promised a promotion if they accepted the advances or felt they could not say no for fear of losing their job. From the EEOC directly:Where employment opportunities or benefits are granted because of an individual's submission to the employer's sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, the employer may be held liable for unlawful sex discrimination against other persons who were qualified for but were denied that employment opportunity or benefit.”

In the Hallmark universe, anything goes for the sake of falling in love. In the real world, I highly recommend boundaries!

Enough of all that. I have a few minutes before I go to work to watch the end of "A Dream of Christmas".

What is your favorite holiday movie?

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