The 4 Most Important Steps to avoiding a Holiday Party Harassment Claim

The heightened attention to workplace harassment and inappropriateness proves that we must all double our efforts to ensure that we set a professional tone and help prevent harassing incidents.  As an employer, you have a legal duty to prevent harassment at holiday parties, just like you have a legal duty to prevent harassment in the office. As a leader and individual, you have a golden ticket to model the right behaviors and define professional respect in the workplace.

Here are our tips on how you can exert some control over office party festivities this season.


  1. Remind Every one of Your Anti-Harassment Policy

Sometimes employees forget that your policy prohibiting harassing behavior applies to social events.  You need to remind everyone, including your leaders. Don’t forget harassment protection also extends to independent contractors, not just employees. Give examples and remind them that holiday parties are an extension of the workplace.

Examples of inappropriate behavior at office parties may include:

  • an intoxicated employee telling a co-worker that they admire their body;


  • employees pressing their bodies up against co-workers and touching co-workers;


  • supervisors asking subordinates to dance and then making romantic propositions;


  • risqué “gag gifts”


  • inappropriate comments or conduct relating to employees’ race, religion, national origin, or other protected statuses.


Re-publish the company’s harassment policy before holiday parties take place and remind employees that holiday festivities do not offer an excuse for violating policy. If your company does not have a written policy, this would be a good time to implement one.  If you need help give us a call.

Your policy reminder should include:

  • a statement of your commitment to a workplace free of unlawful harassment;


  • definition of the types of conduct that constitute harassment;


  • outline the procedure for making complaints to designated persons within your organization


  • a statement that anyone found guilty of harassment after investigation will be subject to discipline, which may include discharge where appropriate.


  • Reiterate the company’s dress code and/or code of conduct for the holiday party.


  • Re-tell managers about expected behavior guidelines and handling complaints. Many state laws hold employers automatically liable when supervisors engage in sexual harassment of subordinates.


  • Supervisors should also be told not to invite co-workers out after the holiday party for small get-togethers at houses or local bars since such “after parties” are frequently the occasion for harassing incidents.



  • Limit the Amount of Alcohol


Limiting alcohol consumption not only reduces harassment risks but also the safety risk of an employee driving while under the influence.  Ensure you offer a wide selection of non-alcoholic drinks and plenty of food.


  1. Watch for Unacceptable Conduct and Respond “In the Moment”

Designate certain managers to listen carefully and observe closely for problematic behavior.  Watch for wandering hands and employees dancing too close, for example.  Ideally, a manager can nip problematic behavior in the bud before it rises to the level of no return.


  1. Take Corrective Action

Where an employee acts inappropriately at a holiday party by engaging in harassing behavior, even if not unlawful, there must be consequences.  The EEOC has said the corrective action must be prompt and proportionate. To see or hear unacceptable conduct and ignore it is to condone it. You must set the tone!

We all have a responsibility to change the narrative, not just leave it to HR.  If you’re interested in learning more, follow Peoplescape’s campaign #UglyShadesofGrey on twitter.