’Tis the season…for sexual harassment claims? As wave of sexual harassment allegations hit multiple sectors, Nemeth Law attorney offers suggestions for holiday work parties
Holiday parties often give employers pause, given the potential for employee merriment at all levels to get out of control as the evening progresses. With this year’s wave of sexual harassment claims impacting Hollywood, media outlets, politics and a variety of industries, Deborah Brouwer, a partner with Detroit-based labor and employment law firm Nemeth Law, says it’s particularly important to establish guidelines to keep attendees safe, happy - and employed.
“In today’s environment, employers and employees are on heightened alert for behavior that can be deemed offensive, demeaning or threatening,” Brouwer said. “This doesn’t mean that holiday parties should be cancelled for 2017; it just calls for more vigilance to prevent and stop any type of harassing behavior.”
Brouwer says it’s imperative that responsible senior management and HR representatives from the organization who are aware of and understand the company’s sexual harassment policy - and how to enforce it - attend the holiday party.
“This is work, not social hour for company executives. Consider them as designated drivers of the company’s sexual harassment policy for the event. They need to be present as role models for exemplary behavior,” Brouwer said. She offered several guidelines for party planning and oversight.
- Remind employees that while the holiday party is meant to celebrate the season and/or their contributions from the past year, the event is still a business function and inappropriate behavior may result in discipline, including termination.
- Ditto for party pics and social media party posts. Remind staff in advance of the celebration that the company’s social media policy still applies at the event, and that actions will be taken against those who don’t follow the spirit of the policy.
- If alcohol is served and employees (including interns) under the age of 21 will be present, be sure to implement and follow a “We ID” policy.
- For crowd control and better monitoring of party activities, consider limiting parties to employees rather than adding clients and vendors.
- Consider moving celebratory events to Monday or Tuesday evenings rather than Thursday or Friday evenings.
- Invite all employees to the party, but make it clear that attendance is voluntary. Not everyone celebrates the holidays and employees should not feel pressured to attend.
- Don’t drink and drive should be the mantra. If possible, arrange for transportation in advance for employees who may not be able to drive. Shuttles and car services are an excellent option, but can be costly. Consider alternatives, including offering to reimburse employees for cab fares or ride-hailing services.
If your workplace has no definite holiday plans this year – and the aforementioned guidelines haven’t scared you off - consider holding a less formal, alcohol-free breakfast or lunch event on-site and then close the office early.
“Less formal parties can be a two for one; staff get to celebrate the season with colleagues while also getting paid time off during the busy holiday season - and employers avoid the pitfalls of events where alcohol is served,” Brouwer said.
About Nemeth Law, P.C.
Celebrating 25 years in 2017, Nemeth Law specializes in arbitration, mediation, workplace investigations, employment litigation, traditional labor law and management consultation/training for private and public sector employers. It is the largest woman-owned law firm in Michigan to exclusively represent management in the prevention, resolution and litigation of labor and employment disputes.