THE BOUNDARIES OF HOLIDAY OFFICE GATHERINGS « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


Team Acknowledgment, Yes; Bad Taste, Alienation and Harassment, No

With sexual harassment scandals currently crowding the daily news cycle, the potential for a holiday office party to become a morale-crushing, litigation nightmare is greater today than ever. There is nothing wrong with annually celebrating company accomplishments and work well done. Yet, management must ensure such parties serve to acknowledge teamwork and build morale, not to spin out-of-control into a regrettable “harassment fest” or worse.

Some DO’s and DON’Ts:

DO: Evaluate your company’s culture and the kind of events that will best fit. But even if you have staff who supposedly go for crude jokes or conduct, you must not promote or permit harassing behavior.

DO: Design a celebration that includes workplace-appropriate acknowledgment and team building. A luncheon rather than an evening party may minimize opportunity for unwanted romantic advances and other improper conduct.

DO: Provide advance guidelines for appropriate dress, including examples of inappropriate clothing such as skimpy outfits and those likely to be insulting or offensive to other races, cultures, religions, etc.

DO: Respect employees who do not wish to take part. Participation in your party needs to be voluntary.

DO: If needed, apply discipline, such as asking an employee who is behaving offensively to leave or sending an employee home to change if dressed inappropriately for the workplace.

DON’T: Permit supervisors, managers, or any executives, even if they own the company, to behave inappropriately. Those are the very people who must be good role models and set the example for appropriate behavior.

DON’T: Look the other way if an employee is being harassed in some way. Such activities can demoralize not only the person targeted but all or most of the group. Manager inaction will significantly increase the chances of a harassment claim.

DON’T: Allow alcohol consumption. Your company can be liable for physical injuries incurred or sexual harassment committed by a person served alcohol at a company-sponsored party, regardless of location or whether it is during or off working hours. If you still decide to serve alcohol or have a bar available, provide advance guidelines for what is appropriate.

See also:

Office Holiday Survival Guide (November, 2010)

Office Holiday Survival Guide II: Respecting Employee Religious Practices (December, 2010)

Office Holiday Survival Guide III: Harassment Hotbed (December, 2010)

For further information this holiday season, please contact one of our attorneys Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth, and Helena Kobrin.

Helena Kobrin

November 22, 2017