Although many companies have cancelled their holiday work parties because of the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, other businesses are pushing forward with planned festivities. For some workers, it can be a joyful time to relax and have some fun at the end of a trying year. This does not necessarily mean that all employees at these parties will be on their best behaviors, though. The atmosphere may be festive, but these gatherings can often lead to cases of sexual harassment.
What Qualifies as Workplace Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment in the workplace occurs when one employee makes another worker feel sexually threated or belittled. There are laws that protect victims in the workplace, including during holiday gatherings. Unwelcomed behavior can make the target feel uncomfortable or unsafe, but to be against the law, the harassment must create an intimidating or unsafe workplace.
A co-worker who makes rude comments may seem obnoxious, but that person may not be a threat to another employee. One example of a threatening workplace environment is when a manager demands that an employee does something sexual in nature in return for a promotion, which could happen at an office party. Another situation that could constitute workplace sexual harassment could be repeated, unwelcomed sexual comments and advances.
A workplace predator may also demand that an employee submit to the sexual advances. It is also not uncommon for work performance to decrease among victims. All these situations can constitute the ingredients for an offensive, intimidating, or hostile work environment.
Drinks at the Holiday Work Party
Sexual harassment at a holiday office party is not uncommon, especially when alcohol is being served. An employee may act differently after having a few drinks at the party. A company that serves alcohol to their employees at a holiday party can take steps to limit the amount of alcohol consumed. Rather than having an open bar, it makes better sense to have a cash bar or a certain amount of drink tickets per attendee. Hiring an experienced bartender to serve the guests is also a good idea because they can look for people who have consumed too much alcohol. There should be food available to guests throughout the event too since drinking on an empty stomach can intensify the situation.
It can also help if the company reminds all workers about their policies about the party. An employer can make it clear that inappropriate behaviors will not be tolerated, including sexual harassment. A review of the anti-harassment and other pertinent policies can take place before the party, which can be done with meetings, handouts, and emails.
Signs of Sexual Harassment at Holiday Work Parties
Managers and supervisors are not the only ones who sexually harass co-workers at offices and holiday parties, it can happen at any level. An administrative assistant could try to force kisses and hugs on a marketing associate. The head of payroll could repeatedly try to inappropriately touch a department manager. A holiday party can also be a place where employees attempt to exchange suggestive gifts, make rude comments about clothing, or even try to get others to play games of a sexual nature.
An employee who is subjected to these types of behaviors and feels violated or uncomfortable can step back and walk away. If the employee feels comfortable enough, they can speak with a supervisor who is at the party and see how they respond. This is also the time to record what happened. If anyone else witnessed what happened, they should be spoken to as well. After the party is over, the victim can record everything in writing.
An employee should report sexual harassment to the company’s Human Resources (HR) department as soon as possible. If HR does not request a written statement, the victim should request that they give one, which can be in the form of a harassment report. There are laws in place that require companies to investigate reports of harassment. After the complaint is made, it is important to keep accurate records of any corrective actions that were taken. If nothing is done about the incident, it may be time to contact a lawyer.
What are My Rights Regarding Sexual Harassment at a Holiday Party?
It can be challenging to make a sexual harassment claim if the event does not take place a work, but there are federal, state, and local laws that protect the rights of employees. If the company does not take correction action, an employee may file a formal disclination complaint through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This is the first step that would be required before actually filing a lawsuit. Here are some of the laws in place that protect employees:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act: This law prohibits employment discrimination and sexual harassment. An employer is required to act after a harassment complaint.
- Crime Victims’ Rights Act: The Crime Victims’ Rights Act protects victims’ rights in federal criminal cases; one is the right to be reasonably heard and protected against the accused harasser.
- Protection from Sexual Violence and Intimidation Act (PSVI): This is a Pennsylvania state law. It protects victims of sexual intimidation or sexual violence by requiring the abuser to keep away from the victim. This applies even if the victim does not seek criminal prosecution.
- Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA): Pennsylvania has additional laws that protect victims of sexual harassment, including the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). This also prohibits discrimination. An employee who believes that they were sexually harassed has the option to file a complaint with the PHRC if it is filed within 180 days after the alleged harassment.
What if My Employer Retaliates After a Complaint?
Retaliation in the workplace is also against the law. A harassed employee who complains to HR about workplace sexual harassment is protected by the law. An employer is not permitted to retaliate against workers who report incidents of sexual harassment if the report is made in good faith. Even if it is determined that the bad behavior did not result in sexual harassment or abuse, the employee may still be protected. The possibility of retaliation is another reason why a harassed employee should keep accurate records of their interactions with the company and HR.
Retaliation at work can have a significant impact on an employee who speaks out. Aside from having other employees talk about them in a negative way, the victim can face demotion, pay cuts, unpleasant reassignments, or termination. Any of these can be done overtly, or it can be more subtle with the employer making up excuses as to why the worker ended up in new and unpleasant circumstances. If a worker is encountering sexual harassment or retaliation after they reported abuse, they should speak to a qualified lawyer right away.
Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Offer Trusted Legal Guidance to Sexually Harassed Employees
Workplace sexual harassment is unwelcomed at any time of the year. If you need advice after you encountered sexual harassment at work, speak to one of our Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Contact us online or call us at 215-569-1999 for a free consultation today. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.