Most people know that sexual harassment at work is illegal. They often don’t realize that sexual harassment of fellow employees (whether subordinates, superiors or colleagues) is prohibited no matter where it occurs.
This time of year, unfortunately, sexual harassment and even assault are all too common at company holiday parties. That’s particularly true at off-site parties where people feel more relaxed and alcohol is usually being served or at least readily available.
Many companies, mostly out of fear of liability for drunk driving crashes and sexual harassment and assault claims, no longer provide free alcohol at these events. Some go further and keep the festivities in the workplace or no longer have them at all.
Employers’ obligations to their employees
If your employer is having a holiday party at a restaurant or other off-site venue, it’s important to know that they have a responsibility to keep their employees safe and free from harassment. They should send out a reminder to all employees that the zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment applies to this and other gatherings.
Moreover, managers and executives should lead by example. If people see their bosses getting drunk and behaving inappropriately, they’re more likely to do the same.
What should you do if this happened to you?
Employees should also know that if they suffer sexual harassment or other behavior at a party or any off-site work event that wouldn’t be allowed in the workplace, like racist or other discriminatory language, they can and should report it without fear of retaliation.
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted during a company holiday party, report it to the human resources department and/or your manager as soon as possible. Depending on what happened, it may warrant going to the police.
Too many people are afraid that if they were drinking or making small talk with someone, they’ll be told it was their fault. However, that’s no excuse for someone else’s inappropriate actions.
Your employer has a duty to investigate the matter and take appropriate action against the perpetrator. If they don’t do that or if you face retaliation for reporting the harassment or assault, get legal guidance to determine what other options are available.