Considerations for New York Companies Before the Next Office Holiday Party
The holiday season is quickly approaching, and with it come holiday parties and end-of-year celebrations. While these festivities are traditionally a fun way for coworkers to bond, celebrations outside the office can lead to inappropriate behavior and even sexual harassment claims.
Workplace harassment can be misunderstood as limited to the location where a job is performed. However, sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct can apply outside of the physical workspace as well. Whether it occurs inside the office or at the restaurant down the street, misconduct among colleagues, as well as between supervisors and staff, is harmful to employees and organizations alike.
Given the overlap between work and socialization that occurs during the holidays, employers should review sexual harassment training and policies with their teams before the festivities get underway.
Sexual harassment that can occur at holiday gatherings comes in many forms, both physical and verbal:
- Sexually offensive remarks or jokes
- Unwanted touching
- Coerced acts of a sexual nature
- Requests for sexual favors
- Complimentary or derogatory comments about a person’s gender or sexual preferences
- Sexual gestures
- Exchange of inappropriate sexual materials via text messaging or other mobile platforms during or after the celebration
It’s an employer’s responsibility to create an inclusive, non-hostile environment for employees, even at work events outside of the office.
Proactive Steps Employers Can Take:
A company’s anti-harassment policy, as required by New State, should spell out what constitutes sexual harassment, include examples, and describe investigation procedures. Policies should also emphasize that retaliation against employees who file complaints involving sexual harassment is prohibited.
Refresher Training on Sexual Harassment Prevention
In addition to the requirement for New York employers to have a sexual harassment policy, companies that have one or more employees are required to provide sexual harassment prevention training. Employers can use training developed by the Department of Labor and Division of Human Rights or their own, provided the training meets or exceeds minimum standards.
Click here to view New York state guidance as well as a model policy and training on sexual harassment prevention.
While New York requires that training must be held at least on an annual basis, training should ideally be conducted more regularly, with potential refresher training held closer to holiday events to reiterate what constitutes proper and improper conduct. With boundaries established, everyone can remain comfortable when the eggnog begins flowing.
Ensure Employees Have the Proper Reporting Resources
The steps for reporting and filing a complaint should be laid out clearly both in training sessions and in the employee handbook. Employees should also be aware of the New York State Division of Human Rights’ toll-free, confidential sexual harassment hotline, which launched in July 2022. Signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul in March, the hotline provides counsel and assistance to individuals experiencing workplace sexual harassment.
Bleakley Platt & Schmidt recommends seeking legal guidance from experienced attorneys on anti-harassment policies and creating – then regularly reviewing – an effective training plan. Our Sexual Harassment Practice Group possesses a wealth of experience in harassment and discrimination matters.
The Sexual Harassment Practice Group is available for consultation regarding sexual harassment prevention policies. Click here or contact us at (914) 287-6161 to learn more about how our expertise can help your organization stay compliant.