Every year around this time many employers organize holiday parties for their employees and, as many employment lawyers will tell you (see here and here), it is not uncommon for sexual harassment to occur at them. This seems to be particularly true when employers serve alcohol at the parties. Some people tend to lose their inhibitions and use poor judgment when they drink, which can lead them to engage in sexually harassing behavior.
Given how common it is for sexual harassment to occur at these holiday parties, it is a good idea for every worker to refresh their memories this time of year about what sexual harassment is and what to do if it occurs. Your employer likely has a sexual harassment policy which will contain useful information and you can also find information about sexual harassment at the EEOC’s website.
You should certainly understand that just because you’re not working while you’re at your employer’s holiday party does not mean that your employer has no obligation to protect you from sexual harassment at the party. If your boss, for example, gets drunk and sexually harasses you at the party, his harassment is unlawful. Even if you’re not the one who gets sexually harassed, you may witness sexual harassment of a co-worker at the party, too.
Most employers have policies which explain what you should do if you experience or witness sexual harassment. If you decide to file a complaint, you should follow your employer’s policy. Before or shortly after filing a complaint, however, you should consider contacting an experienced employment lawyer, like the ones at the Maine Employee Rights Group, who can give you advice about how to protect yourself against potential retaliation from your employer. It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee because she filed a sexual harassment complaint—but that doesn’t mean retaliation doesn’t occur.
Similarly, if you’ve experienced sexual harassment, you may think that your employer didn’t do what it should have done to either prevent the harassment from occurring or to stop the harassment once it began. If that is the case, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer to learn more about your rights and whether your employer has violated them.