I originally posted this article in 2008, but I think it is a good reminder:
Jessica Hawthorne, an employment attorney formerly with the California Chamber of Commerce, has some good suggestions regarding holiday parties and preventing sexual harassment lawsuits.
As holiday decorations start to go up around the office and everyone is full of seasonal cheer, many businesses may find that work parties, along with a more relaxed environment, can lead to sexual harassment claims.
Much too often especially if the event is off-site and the alcohol flows freely the office holiday party becomes a breeding ground for this sort of behavior. It seems that some employees can get the impression that professional behavior isn’t necessary at the festivities.
But that’s not the case. If its a work-sponsored event, workplace etiquette applies. And unfortunately for employers, liability can be the unexpected Christmas delivery if things aren’t handled properly.
Every year, claims and lawsuits over sexual harassment problems cost companies millions of dollars. In 2007, for example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received nearly 25,000 sex-discrimination complaints and fined businesses more than $135 million for violating these workplace protections, the highest level since 2002.
But businesses can protect employees against legal turmoil by taking simple steps to prevent harassment from occurring at the office holiday party or anywhere else:
Advise employees of all relevant policies, such as harassment, dress code and appropriate workplace behavior.
Make sure all supervisors have received sexual harassment training.
Make sure everyone knows how to report unwanted or unwelcome behavior.
Remind all employees that the company’s sexual harassment policies will be in full force and effect during the event.
Despite training and preparation, sexual harassment claims could arise, so employers should also be aware of how to mitigate the situation. Its important to act swiftly if there are any complaints to determine what happened and how best to deal with the claim. That way, you will have done your harassment prevention due diligence if any legal situation arises later.
The best way to accomplish this and follow California law is to conduct proactive employee training and awareness against all forms of harassment.
All organizations, and that includes businesses, government agencies and non-profits, with 50 or more employees are required to train all supervisory personnel in sexual harassment prevention. Employers must prove that all of these employees take an interactive, two-hour harassment prevention course within six months of hire and every two years thereafter.
So keep in mind that while sexual harassment prevention is relevant all year round, now is a good time to give your office a refresher course. Your business should enjoy this festive time of year by keeping employees aware and preventing sexual harassment before it starts.
Jessica Hawthorne was formerly employment attorney the California Chamber of Commerce.The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego 95 South Market Street, Suite 520 San Jose, CA 95113 Tel. 408-293-6341 Feel free to suggest topics for the blog. We are happy to consider topics pertaining to general points of Labor and Employment Law, but we cannot answer questions about specific situations or provide legal advice. If you desire legal advice, you should contact an attorney. Your use of this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the Law Office of Phillip J. Griego. The use of the Internet or this blog for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be posted in this blog and the Law Office of Phillip J. Griego cannot guarantee the confidentiality of anything posted to this blog.Phillip J. Griego represents employees and businesses throughout Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area including Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Los Altos, San Jose, the South Bay Area, Campbell, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Saratoga, and Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Benito, Mendocino, and Calaveras counties.
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