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Avoiding Sexual Harassment Claims Post-Christmas Party

Christmas parties are a great opportunity for staff to bond and let their hair down. When they go well, they improve employee engagement and most people like to be part of a fun workplace. However, excessive alcohol consumption means that people lose their inhibitions and can lead to serious allegations about unwanted behaviour.

The #MeToo campaign and the publicity surrounding it has enabled individuals to come forward and speak out about unwanted behaviour, which is a positive step.

Last year, our firm dealt with the aftermath of Christmas parties and we saw a huge influx of sexual harassment claims. The most serious allegations involved sexual assault where the police were involved. This was extremely distressing to both the employees concerned and the owners and managers of these companies.

These companies learnt the hard way about the consequences of not regulating their employees’ or directors’ behaviour.

The majority of these cases involve women making complaints against men, but this isn’t always the case. We have dealt with complaints by young black men about sexual harassment by older white women.

We would encourage employers to take a few precautions to make sure their Christmas party is a positive experience for everyone. These include:

  1. Making sure your organisation has a substance misuse policy which covers both drugs and alcohol. Employers should share this policy with all staff and give appropriate reminders before the office party.
  2. Including a sexual harassment policy in your handbook and making sure that your employees are aware of this and your commitment to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.
  3. Being mindful of accommodating different religious views by talking to all staff.
  4. Considering the amount of free alcohol you want to provide to each employee and providing soft drinks as an alternatives.
  5. Providing clear guidance to your employees regarding acceptable standards of a behaviour, both in and out of the office.
  6. Ensuring that employees understand the difference between banter and behaviour that could infringe the dignity of another person present.
  7. Asking trusted members of staff to monitor and curb the behaviour of those in attendance.
  8. Checking staff can get home safely and hiring transport or paying for and arranging taxis if necessary.
  9. Knowing when to take action or pick up on any issues.

Many employers do not realise that even the out-of-office Christmas party can result in them being held legally responsible for their employees’ actions. We hope our tips are helpful so your Christmas party does not result in any negative repercussions.

To find out more about preventing sexual harassment in the workplace at any time of the year, contact our specialist Employment Law team at Martin Searle Solicitors on 01273 609911, or email info@ms-solicitors.co.uk.

 

About the author

Fiona Martin

fiona-martin

I lead the employment teams in our solicitors’ offices in Brighton, Eastbourne, Shoreham, Gatwick & Crawley and Croydon. As founding Director, I am also responsible for the firm’s marketing. I provide expert opinion for the press, disseminate employment law round-ups through my employment law blog and campaign on important issues such as maternity and disability discrimination. I train employers and HR professionals to be best practice managers and I am also a CEDR accredited mediator.

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