During this time of year many offices, committees, and agencies will have holiday parties at the office or at locations outside of the workplace. This is a great opportunity to socialize with co-workers and decompress from the business of work, but it can also lead to rather embarrassing and unwelcome behavior that can negatively impact the performance of employees in the long term. The Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, but many Congressional employees are unaware that it can reach beyond the four corners of their offices to off-duty, off premises conduct, including work-sponsored holiday functions.

Many of us have experienced co-workers with too much to drink, or we have been that person ourselves. Harassment tends to be more prevalent in such situations. All of us should be sensitive to the following “red flags” at employer-sponsored holiday functions: employees exchanging sexually suggestive or romantic gifts; employees pressuring other employees to kiss under the mistletoe, employees pressuring other employees to play games that have a physical contact component like “Twister”, and excessive teasing or sexually suggestive comments about attire or physical attributes.

The OCWR suggests some preventive measures for office holiday parties:

-Skip the mistletoe in the workplace and with co-workers

-Employees should know ahead of time of the office’s expectations for behavior and that harassment laws apply even in out of office settings.

-If permitted, bring spouses and significant others, which will often, although not always, deter inappropriate conduct.

-Avoid or prohibit sexually-related gag gifts or games.

-Keep an eye out for employees exhibiting forceful behavior, whether intoxicated or not, and those that appear to be the target of such behavior. Employees are not expected to act as bouncers, but there are a number of subtle ways to defuse a situation. Let it be known that harassing behavior is not cool.

For more information on how to maintain a harassment-free environment during the holiday party season, contact us at 202-724-9250.