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Sexual Harassment Pitfalls at Company Holiday Parties

Sexual.Harassment.Holiday.Mistletoe.Dollar.Photo.Club.11.24.15.jpgOur Award-Winning New York Employment Law Attorney is often asked to speak about sexual harassment in the workplace. With the approaching holidays, it is important that employers, management, and other staff are made aware that holiday parties, whether in the office or at work-sponsored events at other venues, are not license to behave badly. While holiday parties may be an excellent morale boost for employees and offer an opportunity for team building, offensive conduct may make the season a little less jolly for all.

Most are aware that federal, state, and some local laws prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace (for more detail on what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace, generally, please see our several previous blogs on sexual harassment, below). While employers are not generally responsible for acts of sexual harassment that result from non-work-related, off-duty interactions between employees, employers may be liable for incidents that occur at work events like holiday parties.

Behavior, in part or in full, that has constituted sexual harassment during a holiday party includes:

  • A supervisor coercing a subordinate into kissing under the mistletoe;
  • A co-worker grabbing his crotch and stating to a fellow employee “Here is your Christmas present!”;
  • Dancing provocatively, suggestively, or grinding on another co-worker;
  • Employees pressing up against co-workers and grabbing their body parts;
  • A manager drafting “rules” for the holiday party, including a system of points that could be earned for performing certain sexual acts with one another;
  • Following a holiday party, an intoxicated male employee complimenting a female co-workers breasts and offering to perform oral sex on her; and
  • Staff giving sexually suggestive or romantic gifts (even in jest.)

But there’s no need to humbug the whole season- preventive measures may (and should) be taken to ensure that a good time is had by all. Employers can, among other things, do the following:

  • Prior to the holiday party, remind all employees of the company’s anti-discrimination/harassment policies prior to the party.
  • Remind all employees of the company’s dress code and/or code of conduct.
  • If serving alcohol, limit consumption. Hire professional bartenders and/or institute a drink limit. Serve food and offer non-alcoholic beverages. Close the bar at least one hour before the end of the holiday party.
  • Do not mandate attendance at the holiday party; the function should be discretionary and not compulsory.

Taking the proper precautions can set the appropriate professional tone for the holiday party, help prevent harassing incidents, ensure that the staff enjoy themselves, and avoid legal headaches and their associated costs.

Know.Your.Rights.Dollar.Photo.Club.3.9.15.jpgIf you have concerns or questions about employers and employees actions or behavior during holiday parties, contact our Award-Winning NY Employment Law Attorney for a confidential consultation at (800) 893-9645.

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