Avoiding Sexual Harassment Claims After The Office Christmas Party
This blog was updated in December 2019
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.
Christmas Parties and Employment Law
Every year, our firm has to deal with the aftermath of Christmas parties and we see a huge influx of sexual harassment claims. The most serious allegations involve sexual assault where the police are involved. This is 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. For example, we have dealt with complaints by young black men about sexual harassment by older white women. Young gay men have also complained about sexual harassment by older heterosexual men.
We would encourage employers to take a few precautions to make sure their Christmas party is a positive experience for everyone. These include:
- 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.
- 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.
- Being mindful of accommodating different religious views by talking to all staff.
- Considering the amount of free alcohol you want to provide to each employee and providing soft drinks as an alternatives.
- Providing clear guidance, such as a Christmas Party email to your staff regarding acceptable standards of behaviour, both in and out of the office.
- Ensuring that employees understand the difference between banter and behaviour that could infringe the dignity of another person present.
- Asking trusted members of staff to monitor and curb the behaviour of those in attendance.
- Checking staff can get home safely and hiring transport or paying for and arranging taxis if necessary.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.