What can you do if you're harassed at a holiday party?

Company holiday parties are an annual tradition.  They are meant to be fun and to build employee morale.  Unfortunately, all too often some employees enjoy themselves too much.  Year after year there are stories about employees telling off-color jokes and inappropriately touching their co-workers after having a few too many drinks at the holiday party.  While some people may laugh it off as “Joe” getting drunk at the holiday party, it is not so funny if you are the butt of Joe’s jokes or on the receiving end of his “friendliness.” 

But is there anything you can do about such behavior, especially now that the holiday party is over?  The answer is yes.  Disparaging jokes and unwanted touching may constitute unlawful harassment.  Both federal and state law protects your right to be free from any workplace harassment.  Moreover, the fact that the harassment took place during a social event such as the company holiday party, does not give employers and harassers a free pass. 

If you believe that you have been the victim of harassment at the holiday party, you should report it pursuant to your employer’s anti-harassment procedures.  If your employer does not have any specific procedures for reporting harassment, we recommend reporting the harassment to your supervisor, human resources, or another member of management.  In all cases, we recommend reporting the harassment in writing, and providing as many details as you can remember.

Understandably, you may be concerned about retaliation if you report the harassment – especially if the harasser is your supervisor or another member of management.  However, the law prohibits your employer from retaliating against you, even if the company ultimately decides no harassment took place.  Additionally, in some cases your rights might be compromised if you do not report the harassment to your employer first. 

If you have any further questions, or if your employer does not adequately respond to your complaint and/or you experience any retaliation, please contact Siegel & Dolan Ltd. at (312) 878-3210.

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