Guest Blog by Emma O’Leary from ELAS Group
It’s the time of year when we usually focus on the dos and don’ts of the work Christmas party. However this year, with new sexual harassment allegations hitting the headlines almost daily, companies seem to be feeling more anxious about exposing themselves to the possibility of such a claim stemming from festive work gatherings.
Emma O’Leary is an employment law consultant for the ELAS Group. She says:
“It’s always advisable to issue a communication to staff to remind them that the Christmas party is an extension of the work place and their conduct should reflect that. Pairing this with your policies on bullying and harassment, equality and diversity is also essential to ensuring employees are aware of their boundaries. The introduction of alcohol does change the perspective of employees who might behave impeccably whilst sober and at work but has a serious effect on their judgement at a party when boundaries appeared blurred.
“We’ve heard from several clients who have all expressed concerns about holding a party this year in light of the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment case and all the others that are still continuing to come to light. Whilst you can prepare and train staff as much as is reasonably possible, it’s difficult to control behaviour at the party itself. Other than banning alcohol, which is likely to stop half of your employees from attending, it can be difficult to manage on the night.
“It might be advisable for a manager or senior member of staff to stay sober and keep an eye on things. While it may appear, initially, as if they’re drawing the short straw, being able to remain vigilant to everyone’s actions will pay dividends in the long run. It’s important to ensure that everyone is comfortable and does not appear to be in an awkward or unwanted situation. If such a situation should arise you should take action immediately, reminding both parties what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour in a workplace environment. A quick word in the ear can often be all it takes to prevent a situation from crossing the line into something more serious although it may still be wise to follow that up in office hours to ensure that there are no concerns arising from the situation.
“Removing mistletoe so there is no temptation for lecherous lunging at an office crush is another suggestion.
“There is always a balance between being a Christmas kill joy and allowing a free for all but it’s still possible to have fun as long as staff are prepared and trained. At the end of the day, employees are adults and should be expected to behave as such, respecting each others’ boundaries whilst still enjoying the spirit of the season…….”