Negotiating Potential Liability at Holiday Parties
Planning on partying like its 1999 to boast morale in your law firm? Check out tips offered by Morrison & Foester in Holiday Parties: Morale Boost but Employer Beware back in December of 1999, advice that is as timely today as it was then. And remember, there's no conflict management strategy better than conflict prevention. Here then are MoFo's excellent tips, which is just a small excerpt of the good advice to be found on the link above.
What Can Employers Do?
Short of assuming the role of "Grinch" and canceling the holiday party, what can employers do to protect themselves from liability for sexual harassing conduct during holiday parties?
First, employers should make sure that they have a comprehensive, written sexual harassment policy in place, including sexual harassment training in the workplace. Employers might also re-circulate the sexual harassment policy prior to the holiday party, or send a memo to employees reminding employees to act responsibly at the party and expressing a zero tolerance for harassing behavior.
Second, if the budget permits, employers could invite employees to bring their spouse, significant other, or guest. Although such an invitation will not rule out incidents of sexual harassment, it may reduce the likelihood of such incidents occurring, as employees may tend to act more responsibly and in a less flirtatious manner towards each other if they bring a spouse or special friend to the party.
Third, employers should monitor closely any employees who have a history of harassing behavior, or who have been involved in complaints of sexual harassment. If such an employee is observed engaging in any inappropriate behavior, he or she should be asked to leave the party immediately, and the employer should apply appropriate discipline upon the employee's return to work.
Finally, employers receiving any complaints regarding inappropriate behavior at the holiday party should treat such complaints seriously and should take prompt, effective steps to address the complaints. This includes interviewing the alleged harasser and harassee, talking to potential witnesses, and administering appropriate discipline if inappropriate behavior is found to have occurred. By taking prompt, remedial action to address complaints of harassment, employers can reduce and in some cases altogether eliminate liability for sexual harassment.