Office Holiday Survival Guide III: Harassment Hotbed « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles

Office Holiday Survival Guide III: Harassment Hotbed

Attempted Hook-Ups Can Lead to Litigation Shake-Downs

We have already outlined a roadmap for handling alcohol at holiday office parties.   By its off-the-clock and put-work-aside nature, the annual December office gathering may also be a prime setting for unwelcome sexual advances by employees, worse yet by managers.  Such harassment is not an experience anyone would want to go through.  It can also lead to serious legal liability no company wants to experience.

Examples of inappropriate, unwelcome party behavior are:

  • Bringing risqué joke gifts;
  • Wearing suggestive “party” attire;
  • Complimenting a co-worker’s body after one too many drinks;
  • Frat house antics, e.g., “competition” for predatory sexual liaisons; or
  • Dancing romantically or suggestively with a subordinate or co-worker.

The employer must be proactive to prevent and, where it occurs, to deal fairly and effectively with incidents of unwelcome advances at the holiday office party. For example:

  • Re-publish, re-distribute the company’s sexual harassment policy before event takes place;
  • Remind employees in advance that while holiday festivities are to be enjoyed, they do not offer an excuse for violating policy;
  • Issue a business attire or other appropriate “dress code” in advance;
  • Limit the availability of free alcoholic drinks and take other measures suggested in our “Office Holiday Survival Guide I, A Risky Cocktail: Alcohol and an Employee Party;”
  • Hold the party during the day, with work to continue afterwards;
  • Reduce the opportunities for unwelcome situations by avoiding inappropriately suggestive music or party games like “Twister” or “Truth or Dare” (strip poker is also out); and
  • Avoid decorating with mistletoe.

It goes without saying – but we will say it anyway – that if your business does not have a written sexual harassment policy, the time to establish one is yesterday, if not sooner.  Please let us know if we can advise you on such matters.