Over the past few months, sexual harassment in the workplace has become a national conversation. Each week another high profile member of the media or a celebrity is accused of inappropriate behavior. This reality, combined with the traditions of the holiday season (i.e. holiday parties), employees may be especially vulnerable to the trappings of frivolity that used to go unpunished.
Essentially, what used to be considered good after party gossip may now be seen as the basis for sexual harassment complaints. Nevertheless, holiday celebrations should not lead to job losses. As such, employees should be cognizant of the following holiday party rules.
Be wary of personal space – The rules about touching and personal space that you learned when you were in kindergarten still apply today. Since many sexual harassment complaints stem from inappropriate touching, minding a person’s personal space.
Avoid drinking games – Even though drinking games may seem fun in the abstract, inappropriate behavior often stems from excessive alcohol consumption. Because of this, games that promote drinking to excess should be avoided at all costs.
Ensure that holiday office gifts are professionally appropriate – The allegations against Matt Lauer and several analysts from the NFL Network should be particularly instructive. So seriously reconsider giving lingerie and sex toys as holiday gifts to female co-workers.
Know your employee handbook – In the event a sexual harassment claim is brought against you, it is critical to know the specific actions that your employer is required to take in investigating such claims. It is also important to know whether certain optional sanctions violate company policy.
If you have additional questions about what to do about sexual harassment claims, an experienced employment law attorney can help.