By Kelly Kramer
Your holiday party is right around the corner. The EEOC reported a 13.6% increase in sexual harassment claims last year. With the upcoming holiday season, what are you to do? 1. Forget about the headlines, those involve actors and politicians, not normal people. 2. Worry about how all of the talk about sexual harassment might make the party lame this year. 3. Wonder how to enjoy the party without either harassing or being harassed. If you chose answer #1, you may be putting yourself and your organization at risk. While headlines are about actors and politicians, sexual harassment is a real concern in the everyday workplace. An online survey launched by a nonprofit called Stop Street Harassment found that 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men had experienced some form of sexual harassment during their lifetime. But… 91% of employees believe it doesn’t happen in their organization. If you chose # 2, it may be difficult to remember, but a company holiday party is a company sponsored event. That means, the policies that apply in your organization, still apply at a party. If you aren’t sure what those policies are, now may be a great time to read and share your code of conduct. If you chose # 3, we have some tips to avoid being in the spotlight Monday morning as the harasser or the victim while still having a good time.
Tips to Avoid a MistleNo Disaster
• Watch your alcohol consumption. Know your limits before your attend the party and stick to them. An “open bar” is not worth losing your coworkers’ respect or even your job if you overindulge. • This should go without saying, but, keep your hands to yourself. Groping, inappropriate touching, dancing too closely can all be easily misinterpreted especially if the participants don’t have similar interactions. A fairly objective way to know if behavior is welcome is to determine if the person receiving the behavior equally initiated and participated in the same behavior. Though not absolute proof that the behavior was unwelcome, after reviewing thousands of subtle sexual harassment situations, in the vast majority of them the recipient did not equally initiate and participate in the same behavior as the harasser. • Avoid suggestive and inappropriate “gag gifts.” What is funny to you or even the recipient may not be funny to everyone else. Keep those types of gifts private and outside of the workplace. • If a coworker makes you feel uncomfortable, it is okay to let them know. For example, let’s say a coworker tells you that “You look amazing in that dress.” You thank them and then they say, “No, I mean it, your body is AMAZING!” You can’t be certain of their intent… was it just to compliment or perhaps more, but the impact of their comment made you uncomfortable. It is okay to let them know. You can say, “thank you for the compliment, but I’d rather talk about…..” • Lastly, mistletoe is a mistleNO. A cute decoration but leave it at home. While it’s okay to kiss and hug your family and friends, it may not be okay to hug and kiss your coworkers at the office party.
Remember, the office party is an extension of your workplace. While the lights may be dimmer, the music louder and the alcohol flowing, your organization’s policy against harassment still applies. If you have any questions about what is and is not appropriate, please check with your Human Resources department.