The Year End/Holiday Celebration in the Era of Reckoning

Who doesn’t enjoy the annual company Holiday Party? Do any of these remind you of an event that you have attended? Employees, relieved of normal workplace stresses and worries, exuberantly extolling a year’s worth of hard-won achievements and desired esprit de corps; Happy workers collectively celebrating year-end bonuses and time off from work, eschewing business attire, dressed and coiffed attractively for the “office party,” sharing Mistletoe Greetings; Owners, managers and executives mingling for “morale” purposes with staff and support team members, freed (for the occasion) from boring “HR Rules” and Company codes; Normal courtesies and inhibitions lowered by the celebratory atmosphere and plentiful Company-provided Holiday Spirits. What could possibly go wrong? The sharp increase in publicized harassment claims is merely the “tip of the (liability) iceberg.” Here are a few practical suggestions for your organization to consider: Harassment. No employer wants to be defending a harassment claim in the current “red hot” environment. And, don’t forget that “hostile environment” claims are not limited to “sexual harassment” – an actionable claim can arise based on any “protected characteristic” or classification. The legal duty to prevent harassment in the workplace likely extends to work sponsored events. Make sure your harassment-avoidance and reporting policies are up-to-date and clearly apply to a “company sponsored event” using state-law appropriate language.  Costume or dress-up events are likely in our view to present a situation where some...

Read More