'Tis the Season–-For Celebration or Litigation?

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Can employers be held liable for inappropriate behavior that takes place at holiday office parties? Hostile workplace environments, discrimination, and sexual harassment can extend beyond the office.

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it is critical that both employees and employers realize that the same rules governing harassment during normal business hours apply at the holiday party.

The halls have been decked, and employees have donned their gay apparel; everyone appears to be in good cheer at the office holiday party, held on a Saturday night at an off-site location.

But there's a problem: some employees are passing around "gag" gifts, items overtly sexual in nature. Making matters worse, these employees are telling lewd jokes and sharing lurid stories about the sex lives of celebrities. One employee, Susan, is clearly distressed by the goings-on. When Susan conveys her disapproval to the group, everyone laughs and continues the racy conversation and joke-telling. Even her immediate supervisor Nancy shrugs and tells Susan, "It's a party. Ignore it if it bothers you." Susan then leaves abruptly.

On Monday, Susan informs the Human Resources department that she's thinking about filing a hostile work environment harassment complaint as a result of her co-workers' crude and offensive behavior at the party. The HR director tells Susan that because the event occurred off-site and on the weekend, her claim has no merit. Is the director correct?

Susan's complaint may support a hostile work environment claim because employers can be held liable for inappropriate conduct at a company-sponsored event, including one that is held off-site and "off the clock." Wisconsin attorney Randall Gold points out that "it is critical that both employees and employers realize that the same rules governing harassment during normal business hours apply at the holiday party." Furthermore, Gold notes that "the corporate holiday party is a classic breeding ground for bad behavior that may cost a company time, money, and valuable employees."

For more on this story including sexual harassment prevention strategies go to:

http://www.hrtutor.com/en/news_rss/articles/2006/12_14_litigation.aspx

Organizations seeking to avoid the high costs of litigation and damage to their reputation resulting from charges of sexual harassment are increasing their commitment to training employees in preventing, recognizing, and correcting sexual harassment in the workplace. The Human Equation, a provider of technology-based solutions for a business's risk management initiatives, provides best-in-class online courses that teach managers, supervisors, and employees how to proactively address sexual harassment. For more information about these and other courses from The Human Equation, visit our elearning web site at http://www.hrtutor.com.

The Human Equation also markets the Employee Report Line, an online system that allows employees to report incidents such as the one mentioned above and allow companies to track and manage these reports.

This press release was distributed through eMediawire by Human Resources Marketer (HR Marketer: http://www.HRmarketer.com) on behalf of the company listed above.

Contact:

Greg Kearsley, PhD

Elearning Specialist

954.888.1271

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