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Preventing sexual harassment at the Christmas party

by Colette Sexton
11th Dec 2018

Colette Sexton, news correspondent at The Sunday Business Post, on how employees and employers can help to prevent workplace sexual harassment during the festive season.

There are workplace Christmas parties kicking off across the country at the moment. Tis the season to be jolly, after all. However, while the festive season can be a fun time of year, unfortunately socialising can led to an increase in workplace sexual harassment incidents.

Some 40 per cent of people have either engaged in inappropriate behaviour at an office party or knew someone who has, according to a survey by Adecco, an international human resources firm, while 11 per cent of those surveyed said that they or someone they knew had been fired as a result of the misbehaviour.

Allegations of sexual harassment often arise in relation to work events that may be linked to alcohol consumption such as Christmas parties, according to Caroline McEnery, Managing Director of The HR Suite and HR and Employment Law Expert.

Ahead of Christmas parties, she said employers should inform their employees that they are expected to behave as they would in the workplace and advise them about appropriate consumption of alcohol.

“I think people need to remember that the workplace, no matter how long they are with the company, and no matter how informal the workplace environment is, needs to remember certain etiquette rules apply,” said Caroline, who is a former member of the Low Pay Commission and is also an adjudicator in the Workplace Relations Commission. “People have a right to come to work in a place that is free from discrimination, bullying and harassment. Therefore, ‘jokes’, regardless of the pure intent or otherwise behind them, have an opportunity to cause distress.”

If an employee is sexually harassed at the Christmas party, or at any time, they should revert to the company policies or handbook in place, according to Caroline.

“These policies are the ground rules of what the employee should do in the event that they believe they are being sexually harassed.”

This policy will outline different routes available for the employee; for example the informal route (mediation) and the formal route, in which the employee can assess and consider their preferred next step.

It is also essential that companies foster a culture that is monitored by all employees throughout the organisation so that when incidents occur they are immediately recognised by other staff members and not just the person subjected to the harassment.

“I would encourage the person who sees inappropriate behaviour to discuss what they witnesses and ask their work colleague if they are okay. I would encourage the employee to advise that the company do not tolerate such behaviour and they should invoke the grievance or dignity and respect at work policy to address this behaviour.”