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What Should I Do if I Am Sexually Harassed at an Office Holiday Party?

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holiday party

The annual holiday party is something that many employees look forward to as an opportunity to relax, celebrate the festive time of year, and enjoy each other’s company. These parties are also a great way for employers to show their employees how much their hard work and dedication is appreciated. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for holiday office parties to get out of hand when overworked employees take full advantage of the beer, wine, and cocktails being served at the open bar. Overserved workers are more likely to cross the line when it comes to inappropriate behavior toward another employee. Oftentimes, this relaxed atmosphere, combined with free-flowing alcohol, can lead to sexual harassment claims. If you have been sexually harassed at a holiday party, you are urged to contact an employment lawyer as soon as possible.

In recent years, many companies have decided to forego the annual holiday party. Employers decided that the amount of alcohol served at work-sponsored events has the potential to be problematic for a number of reasons. According to a recent poll, over 10 percent of employers decided against hosting a holiday party. Of the companies that did host a party, less than half planned on serving alcohol. This was down by over 60 percent compared with the previous year. Although these changes are likely due to a range of factors, reducing the incidence of sexual harassment at these work-sponsored functions is likely one of the main reasons.

What Types of Behavior Are Considered Sexual Harassment?

There are a range of behaviors that constitute sexual harassment, from obvious inappropriate touching to making rude or explicit comments. When an individual engages is this type of behavior, causing another employee to feel uncomfortable, scared, or afraid of losing his or her job, this is considered sexual harassment. Some common examples of sexual harassment that could occur at a holiday party include the following:

  • Unwanted or unwelcome touching, including excessive hugging and kissing, or getting too close to another employee while dancing
  • Giving another employee a gift that is sexual in nature
  • Making comments about a co-worker’s body
  • Forcing an employee to play party games that make him or her uncomfortable, including Truth or Dare and Twister
  • Making sexually explicit remarks to another employee about sex acts
  • Making inappropriate remarks about another employee’s clothing or appearance

When the behavior occurs outside of the office, or after the official workday has ended, it is often unclear whether the inappropriate behavior will be covered under the law. However, office holiday parties are generally considered workplace events, even if the party is held at an offsite location such as a bar, restaurant, or banquet hall. In addition, although one incident that occurs at a party may be considered sexual harassment, oftentimes the behavior that occurs at a party is part of a pattern of sexual harassment that has been occurring over time. For example, if your manager makes a comment about how your dress shows off your legs, this may be part of a pattern of inappropriate comments he has made about your appearance.

What Is Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

Quid pro quo is a Latin term that means something for something. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when someone who is in a position of power suggests that they will give you something if you agree to their sexual demands. In most cases, the authority figure will promise a raise or a promotion in exchange for the sexual favor. Other times, the person in the power position may threaten to terminate your employment if you do not accept their sexual advances. The quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs if that person promises not to fire you if you agree to their other demands. There are a number of elements that you must be able to prove when pursuing a quid pro quo sexual harassment claim, including the following:

  • You were an employee of the company or applied for a job with the company where the alleged harasser worked.
  • The alleged harasser made unwanted sexual advances toward you or engaged in unwanted verbal or physical conduct.
  • Certain benefits were promised on the condition that you accept the harasser’s sexual advances.
  • Decisions affecting your employment were made based on your acceptance or rejection of the alleged harasser’s behavior or conduct.
  • When the alleged quid pro quo sexual harassment occurred, the alleged harasser was in a position of power at the company.
  • You were harmed by the alleged harasser’s conduct.
  • The alleged harasser’s conduct was the main cause of the harm.

How Can I Avoid Being Sexually Harassed at a Holiday Party?

Unfortunately, people are more likely to say or do things they would not normally do when they have had one too many drinks. Therefore, although you cannot control how much co-workers or supervisors drink at a holiday party, you can take responsibility for your actions. Whether that means monitoring your alcohol intake or avoiding alcohol entirely, this can help ensure that you are able to react appropriately to any unwanted advances from another employee. If you do consume alcohol at your office holiday party, too many drinks can lower your inhibitions, increasing the risk of being taken advantage of by a coworker.

In addition to avoiding alcohol, if a co-worker or supervisor is making comments or unwanted sexual advances that are making you uncomfortable, leave the party. If you have had several drinks, call a ridesharing company such as Uber or Lyft so that you do not drink and drive. Ask another co-worker to wait with you in case the person who was making the rude or sexually explicit comments follows you. If the situation escalates, and you believe that your safety is being compromised, call 911 and request assistance.

What Should I Do if My Rights Have Been Violated?

If you have been the victim of sexual harassment at an office holiday party, it is highly recommended that you contact an employment lawyer as soon as possible.

Even if you do not take legal action against the alleged harasser, having a dedicated lawyer on your side will ensure that your rights are protected and that you understand your legal options. It is also extremely important that you put in writing everything that happened at the party while the details are still fresh in your head. If you have co-workers that you feel you can trust, ask if they have witnessed or experienced the same type of behavior that you were subjected to at the holiday party. They may be able to provide an official statement that can be used if you pursue a sexual harassment claim. The next important step is to speak to your supervisor or someone in the Human Resources Department. Explain what happened, including everything that the alleged harasser said and did at the holiday party, as well as any other times prior to the party where they made you feel uncomfortable, threatened, or that you were in danger of losing your job if you did not comply with their demands.

What if My Employer Retaliates Against Me after Filing a Complaint?

Oftentimes, workers hesitate to report an incident of sexual harassment, particularly if the alleged harasser in in a position of power within the company. They are afraid that they will experience retaliation for reporting the harassment.  However, it is against the law for an employer to retaliate against you for filing a sexual harassment claim. In fact, if your employer does retaliate against you, and you can prove the retaliatory action that he or she has taken, you can file a retaliation claim within your sexual harassment claim, or you can file a separate lawsuit.

What Damages May I Receive in a Sexual Harassment Claim?

If you wish to pursue a sexual harassment claim against the alleged harasser, you may be eligible for financial compensation, including lost wages, lost benefits, and lost employment opportunities. You may also be able to claim emotional distress if the incident caused extreme pain and suffering. In addition, if the violations were particularly egregious, you may be eligible for punitive damages, which are awarded as a way to discourage the alleged harasser from engaging in this type of behavior in the future. An employment lawyer will review your case and recommend the best legal course of action.

Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C., Represent Victims of Sexual Harassment

If you were sexually harassed at your office holiday party, reach out to the Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. This behavior is unacceptable, regardless of whether it is at work or a work-sponsored event. We will thoroughly investigate the details of your case, ensure that your legal rights are protected, and assist you with every step of the claims process. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, we serve clients in Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and South Jersey.

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