Compliance Blog

8 Tips to Ensure Your Office Holiday Party is Inclusive and Harassment-Free

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anti-harassment training for office holiday parties

December is the season for workplace holiday parties, a long-standing tradition that gives organizations an opportunity to bring employees together to celebrate and socialize. However, without some thoughtful planning and guidelines, holiday get-togethers can become HR headaches, resulting in negative consequences that extend far beyond the holiday season.  

Here are 8 Dos and Don’ts to help ensure your office holiday party is inclusive and harassment-free:  

      1. Don’t call it a Christmas party
        Rather than inviting employees to a Christmas party, call it a holiday party or end-of-year celebration, which makes the event inclusive for employees with diverse backgrounds, religions and beliefs. Another option is to schedule a post-holiday gathering, when employees are back from vacations and after the hectic weeks leading up to December 31. A party in January can be a fun way to highlight last year’s accomplishments and share goals and plans for the new year.
      2. Don’t make it mandatory
        Some employees won’t be comfortable attending a holiday party for religious, cultural or other reasons, so attendance should be optional.  An after-work party may also pose a scheduling conflict or childcare issues for employees. 
      3. Do keep it diverse and inclusive
        In addition to avoiding a Christmas theme, it’s a good idea to choose decorations and activities that appeal to all employees and create an atmosphere in which everyone feels comfortable and welcome. The holiday party invitation should also be sensitive to LGBTQ employees and their spouses and partners.
      4. Don’t offer unlimited alcohol
        Alcohol reduces social inhibitions and impairs judgment, so if you’re serving adult beverages at your holiday party, it’s a good idea to limit the amount of alcohol and increase the amount of food. And be sure to offer plenty of nonalcoholic options. Workplaces that tolerate or encourage alcohol consumption increase the risk of workplace harassment, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s task force on workplace harassment. The task force recommends that organizations train co-workers to intervene appropriately if they see alcohol-induced misconduct, and remind managers of their responsibility to recognize and respond to harassment, including at work-related events where people are consuming alcohol.
      5. Do set expectations for acceptable and unacceptable behavior
        In addition to reminding employees to drink responsibly at holiday festivities, organizations should emphasize the importance of avoiding any behavior that could lead to sexual harassment claims. This includes inappropriate touching, making unwelcome sexual comments, using derogatory terms, discussing sexual fantasies and sharing obscene or offensive images and videos.  
      6. Do remind employees of your social-media policy
        Holiday parties can be a social-media nightmare if employees violate your organization’s social-media policy and post embarrassing selfies and other inappropriate content and images that reflect the company and behavior of employees and guests. Make sure your employees are familiar with your social-media policy and guidelines and understand what they need to know and do to avoid possible problems.
      7. Do ensure employees are up to date on anti-harassment training
        With the ongoing spotlight on #MeToo, it’s important to reinforce the message that your organization’s code of conduct and anti-harassment policies apply to holiday parties and other events. The holiday season is also a good time to make sure that all employees are up to date on workplace-conduct training, including preventing discrimination and harassment, avoiding retaliation, diversity and inclusion and unconscious bias.
      8. Do respond promptly to inappropriate behavior
        Managers and supervisors should be aware of their responsibility to look out for inappropriate behavior at holiday parties and be prepared to intervene before a situation gets out of hand and may require disciplinary action. It’s also critical to follow up promptly on any complaints the organization may receive from employees or guests after the event.
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  1. Traliant Insight
    In spite of good intentions, without some careful planning and communication, workplace holiday parties can be full of missteps. During this time of year, it’s especially important that employees understand the expectation for appropriate, professional behavior, even – or especially  – when the objective is to socialize and have fun. Providing employees with sexual harassment prevention training reinforces the organization’s commitment to creating a harassment-free and inclusive workplace for all employees during the holidays and throughout the year.

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