Given the recent string of sexual harassment cases in the news, many businesses are wondering if serving alcohol at work events is a good idea. The “Weinstein effect” is sweeping the nation, and this year’s holiday parties are feeling its implications: Fewer companies will be serving alcohol at their festivities. According to the 2017 Holiday Party Survey Report, only 47.8% of workplaces will have booze available, down from a whopping 62% last year.
Although it may be easier to focus on alcohol as the source of harassment cases in workplaces, Nina Frank from Outten and Golden law firm sees this as missing the point.
“I don’t think I can say this often enough: Alcohol doesn’t cause sexual harassment, or sexual assault, or rape,” she says. “It’s always the individual’s fault when they sexually harass or assault someone else, alcohol consumption does not lower inhibitions to the point where it can be excused.”
Although Frank understands why employers might think twice about sponsoring drinking among employees, she urges caution. “I think removing alcohol from holiday parties is just another way to try to shift the blame from perpetrators, and instead blame it on ‘bad behavior’ or a culture of permissiveness and drinking. We all know that sexual harassment occurs whether people are drunk or sober — not serving alcohol at the holiday party does not address the real issue of harassment in the workplace.”
When it comes to determining what behavior is appropriate for your work holiday party, our questions were answered by Frank. She explained everything we need to know about this topic:
Are company holiday parties legally considered an extension of the workplace? Are employees therefore covered by sexual harassment law during these events?
Holiday work parties can sometimes be seen as an extension of the workplace – especially if your job duties require or expect you to attend the party, or if there are benefits from attending, like networking opportunities. The social order that exists in an office often manifests itself at parties as well, and sometimes with even greater intensity because people may let their guard down more in a party atmosphere.
What types of behaviors can be classified as sexual harassment during a holiday party?
Sexual harassment isn’t only present in the workplace – it can follow you to company parties as well. It comes in many forms, from unwanted sexual jokes to pressures for dates or sex, and even groping.
What should people be aware of to maintain a professional relationship with their colleagues at holiday parties? (i.e. is flirting acceptable? Or should all interactions remain platonic?)
I find it ridiculous that people are saying this focus on sexual harassment will stop flirting or office relationships. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, etc., is all about a lack of consent– not the act of flirting itself. If both people involved feel comfortable with the exchange, then there is no problem. However, with sexual harassment, one party uses their position of authority to make the other person uncomfortable. This creates an imbalanced and unfair working environment for everyone else.
What can men do to stand up against sexual harassment in the workplace, especially during holiday parties?
Don’t just stand there and do nothing if you see someone being harassed or groped at a party. You have the power to step in and put a stop to it. Let the offender know that their behavior is not okay. Alternatively, you can talk to the individual who is being harassed and tell them what you observed. Be ready to help them in any way they might need.
What should a person do if they feel sexually harassed at a holiday party?
Risks are involved when deciding whether to report sexual harassment; however, documenting the events can help shield you from future career problems that may arise from the situation. If you are being harassed at work, you can report it to your manager or HR department (if the person is not the harasser). However, don’t assume that they will automatically take your side or that the harasser will face appropriate consequences. Though “zero tolerance” policies are widely stated, many employers do not follow through with these claims. If you experienced sexual harassment from a coworker or superior at the office holiday party, consult with a lawyer to see what legal options may be available to you.