People often think of sexual harassment as conduct that happens at the workplace during normal business hours. The reality is that sexual harassment can happen anytime, including after-work functions like business trips or holiday parties. Generally, an employer is responsible for enforcing anti-sexual harassment policies at employer-hosted functions.
Holiday business parties are supposed to be fun, laughter-filled occasions, but they can also end up being disasters of liability. Don’t let a celebration become a boundless event that threatens an employee’s dignity. Jokes or games that appear to be innocent and fun can turn holiday festivities into an uncomfortable event filled with innuendo and sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can include grabbing and poking, as well as lewd gestures and comments during the work day and beyond. Sexual harassment is more likely to occur in casual after work atmospheres. Some examples of common holiday party incidents include unwanted touching (excessive hugging, etc), uncomfortable sexual remarks or sexual jokes, making employees play games such as “Twister” that could involve unwanted touching, or remarks made about an employee’s appearance. Alcohol consumption combined with a more casual atmosphere can lead to illegal conduct. One survey found less than half of employers planned to serve alcohol at their holiday functions. That’s down from 62% just a few years ago.
There has been an increase of support for victims of sexual harassment, which almost certainly stems from news articles about high-profile sexual harassment cases. The “Me Too” and “US Too” campaigns have led to more people speaking out about their experiences of sexual harassment. The Federal and State laws mirror this supportive trend by providing avenues for employees to hold their employers accountable for sexual harassment that takes place at work or at employer-hosted events.
If your employer has subjected you to unwelcome behavior at a hosted holiday party, then that behavior should be reported to the appropriate person who handles workplace harassment complaints. Putting the employer on notice of the problem may be required for future legal action. The employer should then investigate every report of sexual harassment and uphold the company’s sexual harassment policy. Every time.
If you or someone you know has been sexually harassed at work, you should immediately contact Cooney Law Offices to discuss your rights. We can help!