Preventing and Addressing Sexual Harassment During Work-Related Gatherings

By Douglas Lipsky

The 2013 hit song Blurred Lines stirred a lot of controversy not only for copyright infringement but also for its implicit references to sexual assault. When it comes to sexual harassment, there are no blurred lines between the workplace and work-related gatherings. This blog delves into sexual harassment during work-related gatherings and what you can do about it. 

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of unlawful discrimination that involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It can manifest in various ways, especially in less formal settings such as work-related gatherings:

  • Unwanted physical contact may be more prevalent in social settings where boundaries can become blurred.
  • Inappropriate jokes or comments, often disguised as ‘banter’ in casual environments
  • Non-verbal cues, such as suggestive glances or gestures
  • Pressure for dates or sexual relationships, especially where there’s a power imbalance.

Federal laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York State Human Rights Law prohibit workplace sexual harassment. These laws obligate employers to maintain a workplace free from sexual harassment and require them to take immediate action upon such complaints.

Noncompliance can result in severe consequences for businesses, including legal penalties, financial liabilities, and reputational damage. Moreover, failure to address these issues can lead to a toxic work environment, affecting employee morale, productivity, and retention. Therefore, understanding and adhering to these laws is not just a legal obligation but also crucial for maintaining a healthy and inclusive workplace culture.

Pre-Event Planning

Pre-event planning is crucial in preventing sexual harassment at work-related gatherings. It begins with setting a clear, professional tone for the event, emphasizing respect and appropriate behavior. Companies should communicate a well-defined policy on harassment to all attendees, ensuring everyone understands the expected standards of conduct.

It’s also beneficial to conduct training sessions for staff and management, focusing on recognizing and preventing harassment. Doing so can help to establish an environment where respect and professionalism are the norm, significantly reducing the likelihood of inappropriate behavior. Effective pre-event planning not only fosters a safe atmosphere but also demonstrates an organization’s commitment to maintaining a respectful workplace.

During the Event

During the event, it’s vital to maintain an environment that upholds the standards set in pre-event planning. This includes having designated staff or management monitor and address any inappropriate conduct. They should be easily identifiable and approachable, ensuring attendees know who to turn to if they feel uncomfortable or witness any form of harassment.

Additionally, while fostering a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere, maintain professional boundaries by setting up clear physical spaces and guidelines for interaction and having event organizers periodically remind attendees of the conduct expectations. Proactive measures like these help prevent situations that could lead to harassment, ensuring the event remains safe and enjoyable for everyone.

What To Do If You Experience Harassment at a Work-Related Gathering

If you experience harassment at a work-related gathering, there are steps you can take to address the situation. First, if you feel safe and comfortable doing so, clearly communicate to the harasser that their behavior is unwelcome and must stop. Direct communication can effectively deter further inappropriate conduct. However, if the behavior continues or you are uncomfortable addressing the person directly, seek help immediately.

Report the incident to a designated point of contact, such as a supervisor or a human resources representative, who is present at the event. Most organizations have protocols for handling such complaints, and they are obligated to investigate and respond appropriately. It’s also advisable to document the incident, noting the time, place, nature of the harassment, and any witnesses. This documentation will be valuable during any investigation. Remember, no form of harassment is acceptable. Taking action will not only protect your rights but also contribute to a safer workplace for everyone.

Why This Matters

Understanding and actively preventing sexual harassment at work-related gatherings is crucial for creating a safe and inclusive work environment. Proactive measures, both before and during the event, coupled with diligent follow-up, demonstrate a commitment to upholding respect and dignity in the workplace. Whether you need guidance on implementing effective harassment prevention strategies or assistance protecting yourself against workplace harassment, contact an experienced employment lawyer.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.