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Sexual Gift-Giving at Work

Gift-giving at work can be a nice way to be congenial with coworkers and let them know that you are thinking of them. However, there is a line of what is appropriate to give and what might be improper. When a present becomes sexual in nature, it can ruin a work relationship, and it can also be grounds for a sexual harassment claim.

Romantic gifts that may not be sexual in nature can also make a person feel uncomfortable, especially if they do not share the same feelings as the one giving the gift. It can lead to an awkward and uncomfortable work environment. It could also make the receiver feel uncomfortable and threatened at work.

Those who are on the receiving end of constant sexually-charged gifts may be able to pursue a legal claim against the individual and their employer if it fails to address the issue. It is best to reach out to a skilled sexual harassment lawyer who can offer advice on how to handle the situation as well as help in filing a complaint within the company, a government agency, or as part of a lawsuit.

Is Sexual Gift-Giving Harassment?

It is inappropriate for a coworker to give another a sexual gift, even if it is meant as a joke. The giver might believe that the recipient will be in on the joke or appreciate the humor, however, they will most likely not find it funny, but rather offensive. It could result in hurt feelings, an awkward feeling for the recipient, and potential disciplinary action against the gift-giver. It is best not to give any gifts of a sexual nature to a coworker, regardless of the closeness of the relationship.

There are two types of sexual harassment: hostile work environment and quid pro quo. The former refers to a work atmosphere for one or a group of employees wherein they feel uncomfortable or discriminated against. The latter pertains to a situation in which a manager requests sexual favors from an employee in exchange for work benefits. Sexual gift-giving can occur in both scenarios.

It can create a hostile work environment by making the recipient of the gift uncomfortable, and it can be construed as quid pro quo harassment if the giver is a person with authority within the company and is using the gift to send a message to the receiver. It is also possible that there is not any malice behind the gift, and the sender made a one-time lapse in judgement. In those instances, the person who received the gift might quickly address it, which could resolve the issue. However, there is the potential that the giver did not make an innocent mistake and might even escalate the situation. Such actions could make the individual and the company liable in a potential lawsuit.

What are Examples of Inappropriate Sexual Gifts?

Office parties and other social events wherein gifts are exchanged offer prime opportunities for an employee to give an inappropriate gift to a coworker. While gag gifts are common, they can cross the line when they become sexual or romantic in nature. A few examples of inappropriate gifts include:

  • Lingerie
  • Romantic jewelry
  • Personal care products
  • Perfume

For those who are considering a gag gift for an upcoming office party, it is important to think ahead before making that purchase. If there is any concern that the gift might be considered inappropriate or make a person uneasy, then the giver should not move forward with that gift. In addition, while the receiver may not be personally offended, it is possible that someone nearby will be and report the incident.

Are Romantic Gifts the Same as Sexual Gifts?

While the specific contents of a romantic gift may differ from that of a sexual gift, the awkwardness associated with it may still be the same, particularly if the recipient does not possess any romantic feelings toward the giver. In most workplace situations, giving a romantic card is an inappropriate gift for a coworker.

Even if the two are involved in a romantic relationship or are on the cusp of one, it is best to keep all in-office gifts appropriate. Romantic gifts should be reserved for outside the office.

However, for those on the receiving end of a romantic gift, it can be quite a shocking present if a coworker expresses certain feelings for them that were not obvious before. It could lead to an uneasy working relationship between the two due to the revelation that one might have romantic feelings for the other. It also may make it difficult for the two to continue working together in a productive or effective manner.

What Should I Do if I Receive a Sexual or Romantic Gift?

When a person receives either a romantic or sexual gift that they are uncomfortable with, it is up to them to address the situation as soon as possible. In most instances, the person who gave the gift made a poor attempt at humor and did not realize the inappropriateness of their gift. In these cases, speaking to the person and telling them why the gift was improper and why it makes one feel uncomfortable should diffuse the situation. If no other incidents arise, then the person has learned their lesson.

However, the employee who gave the gift may ignore the initial request or try to rectify the situation through additional actions. If the gifts continue or are followed-up with even more unprofessional behaviors, then the employee on the receiving end can either report the incidents to their supervisor or their Human Resources (HR) department.

Once HR is involved, it becomes a company matter, and it is up to them to handle the situation how it best sees fit. If they do not complete a thorough investigation to arrive at a resolution that satisfies the victim, or if they simply ignore the complaint, then an employee can seek relief from outside sources.

A person can hire a sexual harassment lawyer who will help them file a lawsuit against the company. A lawyer can also help file a formal complaint with an outside agency, such as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEPC), the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC), or the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights within the Office of the Attorney General.

Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. Protect the Rights of Sexual Harassment Victims

If you are receiving persistent sexual gifts from a coworker and they will not stop regardless of your attempts to dissuade them, the Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. will intervene on your behalf. We can represent you in filing a formal complaint either with your company or in a civil lawsuit. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County, as well as in New York.

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