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  • Writer's picturePeter Stathakos

How To Identify Holiday Party Sexual Harassment

The holiday season is a time for celebration. Many workplaces mark the occasion with office parties meant to reward the team for their dedication and hard work. Unfortunately, the combination of alcohol and a more relaxed atmosphere can lead to incidents of sexual harassment and misconduct.

Whether you are in HR or management, there are steps you can take to educate your employees and ensure that no one has to endure any form of sexual harassment at a company gathering.

how to identify holiday party sexual harrassment

Why Does Sexual Harassment Happen at Holiday Parties?

Office parties can be difficult for some individuals to navigate. While the rules of the workplace are clearly defined, some people erroneously believe that these conditions do not apply to after hours events.

Additionally, many workplace parties include alcohol. Intoxication is never an excuse for harassment. However, excessive alcohol consumption can cause behavior changes, including increased aggression and lowered inhibitions. Intoxicated people may cross boundaries with their words and behaviors.

Key Considerations for Holiday Party Sexual Harassment Claims

Holiday party harassment claims are just as serious as any other type of workplace harassment case. Employers that do not take measure to protect their employees from foreseeable dangerous can face legal action.

HR departments can get ahead of potential problems by notifying managers and executives of the following conditions for holiday party harassment claims.

Holiday Party Sexual Harassment Is Defined by the Victim

As with other incidents of workplace harassment, only the victim can answer if harassment at a holiday party occurred. For HR and labor law purposes, sexual harassment only requires that the action is unwanted.

Victims do not have to be directly involved in the behavior to claim harassment. For example, if a conversation at a holiday party turns lewd, coworkers who overhear the exchange can make a hostile environment harassment claim.

Likewise, employees who feel pressured to accept sexualized or inappropriate behavior at office parties to fit in or advance their careers are also victims of harassment. Employees who report harassment may experience psychological distress due to retaliation and exclusion.

Companies may be liable for employee conduct in out-of-office settings

When the drinks are flowing and the music is playing, office parties do not feel like business as usual. However, all the rules regarding sexual harassment apply. Companies can be held accountable for holiday party sexual harassment, even if the behavior takes place outside of work hours or away from the company’s offices.

For this reason, HR professionals and other managers should consider scheduling a refresher on workplace sexual harassment rules shortly before the holiday party.

If your HR department needs support in developing an effective sexual harassment prevention workshop for out-of-office events, please contact us. As dealing with the aftermath of filing a harassment claim can be emotionally and mentally difficult for employees, we also provide support to victims of workplace harassment.

Types of Holiday Party Sexual Harassment

Workplace party sexual harassment can appear in different forms.

Sexual Solicitation and Advances

In this case, an employee is pressured into either performing a sexual act in exchange for a benefit or to avoid a punishment.

Examples of Sexual Solicitation Holiday Party Sexual Harassment

The following scenarios would be considered sexual solicitation or advances:

● A manager tells an employee that kissing them under the mistletoe will influence their upcoming performance review

● A supervisor who crosses a sexual boundary with an employee at party later threatens to fire them for reporting the incident.

Hostile Environment Harassment

The informal atmosphere of a holiday party can invite many forms of hostile environment harassment. Unlike sexual solicitation, the perpetrator does not need to have any authority over the victim. Additionally, the behavior does not have to involve sex or touching.

Examples of Hostile Environment Holiday Party Sexual Harassment

All of these behaviors meet the criteria for hostile environment harassment:

● Giving sexually explicit gifts

● Making sexual jokes

● Continuously asking a coworker for a date, dance, or kiss

How to Prevent Sexual Harassment at Holiday Parties

Providing a selection of non alcoholic beverages can help prevent sexual harassment at holiday parties

Employers are obligated by law to investigate any harassment claims arising from work-related social events. However, there are several ways that companies can reduce their liability and reduce the likelihood any incidents will occur:

● Avoid open bars. Instead, use drink tickets to limit consumption

● Host the party at venue that follows professional serving regulations

● Invite spouses and families

● Inform employees of behavior expectations and emphasize that discriminatory or harassing behaviors will not be tolerated

● Investigate any accusation of harassment arising from company-related social events

The therapy team at Peter Stathakos and Associates are specially trained to support corporate HR departments in their work. We can provide professional solutions tailored to your company’s needs.

If you are an employer, employee, manager, or HR staff member interested in creating a respectful and safe environment this holiday season, we invite you to book a free introduction call with us today.

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