Holiday Parties and Workplace Harassment
We recently discussed the workplace discrimination allegations made by Miami Dolphins player Jonathan Martin. Regardless of the outcome, the NFL player’s case is notable because it demonstrates that harassment can potentially occur in any work setting. In 1999, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received over 14,000 harassment claims, and the number of filings has steadily increased in each subsequent year.
For those employers without a policy or workplace harassment prevention program, now is an opportune time to start. Indeed, December is the month for workplace holiday parties, which unfortunately can also invite potentially inappropriate or even unlawful coworker conduct.
The first step in drafting a policy is to provide real-life context, rather than simply restating the legal definition of harassment. Although it can be helpful to remind employees that both Maryland and federal laws address such behavior, the best teaching tool is to provide examples of behavior that crosses the line.
An employer may also wish to include the subject of office romances in its harassment policy. Many employers prohibit dating between supervisors and employees directly within their line of authority. Yet even if some types of office relationships are not prohibited, the fallout or behavior that can result from breakups between coworkers can create an inappropriate work environment.
Any policy should also identify personnel who can be contacted in the event of potential complaints, or for answering questions about certain behaviors. Finally, employers should educate their workforce on its policy. That approach may include live trainings, a section in an employee handbook, and/or posters.
In any holiday-themed internal correspondence, proactive employers might take this opportunity to remind their employees of their workplace harassment procedures.
Source: usatoday.com, “Stop workplace harassment in your company,” Jane Howard-Martin