Avoiding Post-Holiday Celebration Sexual Harassment & Discrimination Liability

With New Years Eve celebrations approaching and the Holiday Season wrapping up, businesses should take some common sense steps to decrease the risk of waking up in 2011 with a liability hangover.  Participation of employees and clients in company sponsored and other social celebrations and activities can promote big rewards in relationship development and morale if properly managed.  However, the music, food, game playing, toasting with alcohol and other aspects of the celebratory atmosphere at New Years Eve and other parties and social activities heighten the risk that certain employees or other business associates will engage in, or be subject to, risky or other inappropriate behavior that can create liability exposures or other business concerns for your business whether or not company sponsored.   Read about other common Holiday Season-related celebration risks and management tips here.

Celebrations Raise Foreseeable Risks

Whether or not company-sponsored, holiday parties and other celebrations where employees celebrate with other employees or clients tend to fuel bad behavior by inviting fraternization, lowering inhibitions and obscuring the line between appropriate and inappropriate social and business behavior.  The relaxation of the environment heightens the risk that certain employees or clients will make unwelcome sexual advances, make sexually suggestive or other inappropriate statements, or engage in other actions that expose the business to sexual harassment or other employment discrimination liability. Businesses also should use care to manage other discrimination exposures in the planning of holiday festivities, gift exchanges, and other activities. Businesses also should be vigilant in watching for signs of inappropriate patterns of discrimination in the selection of employees invited to participate in company-connected social events as well as off-duty holiday gatherings sponsored by managers and supervisors. In addition, businesses also should critically review their own plans for possible insensitivity. Business connected holiday parties, communications, gifts and other festivities should be designed to show appropriate sensitivity to religious and other cultural diversity.

To minimize these exposures, businesses should take steps to communicate and reinforce company policies and expectations about sexual harassment, discrimination, fraternization and other conduct viewed as inappropriate by the company and communicating reminders about these policies to employees and business associates during the Holiday Season. 

Timely Investigation & Notification

Businesses faced with allegations of discrimination, sexual harassment or other misconduct also should act promptly to investigate any concerns and if necessary, take timely corrective action.  Delay in investigation or redress of discrimination or other improprieties can increase the liability exposure of a business presented with a valid complaint and complicate the ability to defend charges that may arise against the business.  Additionally, delay also increases the likelihood that a complaining party will contact governmental officials, plaintiff’s lawyers or others outside the corporation in the redress of his concern.

If a report of an accident, act of discrimination or sexual harassment or other liability related event arises, remember to consider as part of your response whether you need to report the event to any insurers or agencies.  Injuries occurring at company related functions often qualify as occupational injuries subject to worker’s compensation and occupational safety laws.  Likewise, automobile, employment practices liability, and general liability policies often require covered parties to tell the carrier promptly upon receipt of notice of an event or claim that may give rise to coverage, even though the carrier may not be obligated to tender a defense or coverage at that time.

For Help With Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other Needs

If your organization needs help investigating a reported concern, reviewing and updating its policies or assessing, managing or defending these or other labor and employment, compensation or benefit practices,  or needs other assistance auditing, updating or defending its human resources, corporate ethics, and compliance practices, or responding to employment related or other charges or suits, please contact management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at cstamer@solutionslawyer.net, (468) 767-8872.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a nationally recognized author and speaker, Ms. Stamer helps business manage people, operations and risk.  She is experienced with advising and assisting employers with these and other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, risk management and internal controls matters. Her experience includes helping management both manage performance and manage legal risk and compliance.  While helping businesses define and manage the conduct and performance of their employees, contractors and vendors, she also assists employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation, health and other employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment laws, advises and defends businesses against labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, fraud and other regulatory compliance and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor, Department of Justice, SEC,  Federal Trade Commission, HUD, HHS, DOD, Departments of Insurance, and other federal and state regulators. She has counseled and represented businesses and their management on workforce and other internal controls and risk management matters for more than 23 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to get access to other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

Other Helpful Resources & Information

If you found this article of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing other Breaking News, articles and other resources available CynthiaStamer.com or Solutions Law Press articles authored by Ms. Stamer including:

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available for review here.

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©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

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