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Harassment & Discrimination

Fa-la-la-la-lawsuit! Harassment and the Holidays


By WPA Nov 16, 2012

Holiday traditions are usually recognized as a lighthearted time of celebration, fun and togetherness; unfortunately, some holiday celebrations may leave individuals to feel isolated, offended and in some instances, harassed. It’s crucial to provide diversity programs, set conduct expectations and implement anti-harassment policies in order to avoid an unwanted lawsuit this holiday season.

Code of conduct training is a vital factor for holiday celebrations. Make it absolutely clear that office parties are still work-related events that require professional behavior. A memo should be sent to all employees and supervisors prior to any office party in order to remind everyone of their duty to abide by the conduct policy, as well as by the alcohol and drug policy.

The alcohol and drug policy should clearly indicate that alcohol is not allowed in the workplace except at employer-sponsored events, and that when alcohol is served employees are always expected to maintain composure, avoid intoxication and act responsibility.

Precautions to limit alcohol related liability should always be taken if alcohol is served at a work event.

  • Use a cash bar or drink tickets to limit drinks
  • Offer only beer and wine
  • Serve starchy and high protein foods
  • Arrange alternate transportation
  • Ask HR representative to “scan” the party to ensure guests are behaving appropriately.

Harassment training is another imperative factor for work-related holiday celebrations. The unlawful harassment policy should outline prohibited behavior, and cover all employees as well as third party guests. It’s critically important for supervisors to maintain professional boundaries during holiday parties. An employer may not be liable for the after-party, but a supervisor is still liable for engaging in acts of unlawful harassment if they behave inappropriately at the after-party. Unlawful harassment can occur in several different forms, including harassment or discrimination based on religion and beliefs. Make sure to cover all the bases.

Workplace diversity training is necessary to prevent illegal harassment and discrimination. All-inclusive workplace environments are ones where diverse perspectives are not only accepted, but also celebrated. The ideal workplace is attuned to all possible holiday needs of employees instead of relying on non-inclusive blanket policies. It’s important to remember that holiday diversity is more than just a December dilemma; holidays occur throughout the year for different religious and secular traditions.

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