Fisher Taubenfeld LLP

Do you fear sexual harassment at your company's holiday party?

This year, the atmosphere in many offices may be a little more subdued than in years past following the outcry of sexual harassment complaints from people in Hollywood, news networks and businesses across the country. Human resources representatives in many New York companies have asked executives to tone down holiday celebrations to avoid any opportunity for inappropriate behavior.

However, you may have secretly wished for this for years. Perhaps in the past you have attended your company's yearly event with reasonable concern for your safety and well-being. You may wonder whether the backlash from the recent, very public scandals will affect the tone of your company's party and what you can do if you find yourself on the receiving end of someone's unwanted advances.

Are there signs of change?

Do your co-workers look forward to the company's holiday gathering, or do they dread it? If they dread it, you may be able to pinpoint the reason, and it likely involves the misbehavior of one or more people on the staff, including supervisors. More business owners and managers are taking steps to make their festivities more responsible and enjoyable, especially if there is a history of sexual misconduct during office parties. For example, your employer may be doing any of the following:

  • While it may seem obvious, some of your co-workers may need a reminder about what behavior is inappropriate. Your boss may send a memo or even hold a mandatory meeting to review sexual harassment policies.
  • Your employer may create an entirely different party environment by inviting workers to bring their spouses or families.
  • If your party invitation notes a specific end time for the event, this is an indication that your employer may be taking the risks seriously.
  • You can tell your boss is taking responsible actions if he or she has hired a certified bartender rather than lining up alcohol bottles on a table and allowing drinks to flow freely.
  • Your company may greatly reduce the chances that someone will be hurt or victimized by establishing a drink limit.
  • A responsible manager will remain sober and monitor the behavior of others.
  • Since alcohol is a common factor in office party misbehavior, some holiday parties will be booze-free, removing that hazard and the accompanying liabilities.

Whether your company's holiday party is a well-ordered event or a free-for-all, you should be able to attend without fear that a co-worker or supervisor will harm you. If you do become the victim of sexual harassment or assault, you have the right to pursue justice. Even when your company holiday party is off-site, if your employer does not take the appropriate steps to create a safe environment for you and others, you may be able to include him or her in any legal action you decide to take.

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