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Office holiday party liabilities – part 1

In many workplaces, the end of the year is often a time of celebration. It’s a time for a company to take stock of its annual sales, offer raises or bonuses as well as congratulate their team on a job well done. One way in which many companies express thanks to their workforce is by hosting an office holiday party.

While a holiday party can be an excellent way to give employees a break from the daily grind and build camaraderie among colleagues, it is also an event rife with opportunity for inappropriate conduct—and resulting legal action. In today’s post, we examine one area of particular concern when colleagues are off the clock:

Sexual harassment

When colleagues are in a relaxed, non-office environment, they can be less inclined to keep their behavior in check—particularly when alcohol is involved. Friendly banter can quickly escalate into flirtatious comments and advances which, if reported, can make an employer liable for sexual harassment.

Prevention

In Texas, employers have a duty to prevent sexual harassment—as well as quickly investigate any such allegations. One preventative step an employer can take is to send all employees a copy of the company’s code of conduct in advance of the party—and remind employees that these standards apply to out-of-office, work-sponsored events.

In addition, an employer can help curb the likelihood of unprofessional behavior between colleagues at the party by:

  • Putting on the party during the workday—rather than after hours,
  • Refraining from serving alcohol at the party and
  • Allowing employees to invite their spouses or significant others to attend.

By staying alert to the above risks, employers can help foster a safe, fun-filled environment for their staff at the office party.

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