Though the holiday season may be filled with glad tidings, mirth and mostly good cheer, work-related holiday events are usually fertile ground for sexual harassment or even sexual assault. Unfortunately, people tend to behave even more inappropriately if alcohol is flowing or the gathering is hosted off-site.
If there is even a mild expectation that employees will attend a gathering, whether it's a holiday party or other work-related event, the gathering is likely to be an extension of the workplace and employers are likely to be held liable for inappropriate employee behavior.
Employers would do well review and refresh their sexual harassment policy (and hopefully there is one – if not, then no time like the present to develop one), including a firm and clear reminder to would-be revelers to review the sexual harassment policy prior to commencing any festivities.
Party-goers should be advised to mind their professional manners the same as they would in the office or at a working lunch – and they should be cautioned to keep inappropriate thoughts, actions, and their hands to themselves. They should also be warned that being under the influence will not insulate them from disciplinary action or termination for policy violations.
Pro tip: Say NO to mistletoe - really bad idea in a professional environment.
If you are a party-goer and things start to get out of hand, be as observant as possible about what's going on around you. Do not isolate yourself if doing so would put you in more danger, but do try to remove yourself from any situation that is uncomfortable or sexually offensive.
Document what was said or done and by whom and report these incidents to your human resources personnel as soon as possible. Reporting is best done in writing, and email works well if that's possible. Always copy yourself on the email or keep a copy of your written complaint for future reference. In Georgia and other states where only one-party consent is necessary to record, you should absolutely record the incidents if you are able.
If the situation progresses to unwanted sexual touching of any kind, try to remain as calm and professional as possible, but do not hesitate to object loudly, make a scene if necessary, and make the problem known, including calling the authorities and filing a police report. It is illegal for your employee to retaliate against you for putting them (or the police) on notice of inappropriate and unwelcome sexually harassing behavior that they were responsible for preventing.
We here at Barrett & Farahany hope your holiday season is happy and trouble-free, but if you find yourself a target of sexually harassing behavior, please don't hesitate to reach out to us. One of our experienced attorneys will welcome your call and will help you determine what steps you should take to protect yourself and your job.