Avoiding sexual harassment incidents at the work Christmas party

Nov 27, 2023 | Good Management

As the festive season approaches, employers will be planning their annual Christmas parties. While these events are an excellent way to show appreciation for staff and foster team spirit, they can also present challenges in terms of professional behaviour and boundaries.

It’s a bit of a cliché but one major concern is still the potential for incidences of sexual harassment. As an employer you will be liable for any problems of this nature as it is a work event, so it’s sensible to take some precautions beforehand.

1. Set clear expectations

Sendingout a company-wide communication ahead of the party might be a good idea. Remind employees about the organisation’s policies related to conduct, emphasising the zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment (along with any other behaviour-related guidance or expectations you feel appropriate to draw to people’s attention).

If you don’t have any policies covering harassment, now might be the time to implement something suitable.

2. Training and awareness

Regular training on workplace conduct is something many employers sensibly do already, covering things like diversity and inclusion as well as bullying and harassment. But whether it’s regular or not,  this is an ideal time to schedule a refresher course on workplace conduct, including a segment on preventing sexual harassment.

Ensure that everyone knows how to report an incident at the party and who to report it to. Stress that retaliation for reporting is unacceptable and will be dealt with seriously.

3. Responsible alcohol consumption

Many employers like to provide free drinks but it’s sensible to limit alcohol consumption. Consider using drink tickets to limit the number of free alcoholic beverages. This can help curb excessive drinking and reduce associated behaviour problems.

Make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks available. Not only is this considerate for those who don’t consume alcohol, but it also provides an option for those who want to alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. You could also consider stopping serving alcohol an hour or more before the event’s end, and switch to non-alcoholic options.

4. Designate party monitors

Assign a few trusted employees or managers the task of keeping an eye out for any problematic behaviour. These individuals should be trained and briefed on what to look out for and how to handle situations.

5. Venue considerations

Opt for venues that have open spaces, allowing for easy movement and reducing the chance of cornered or isolated situations.

Ensure safe transport options are available, such as designated drivers, ride-sharing, or shuttle services, to prevent employees from driving under the influence.

6. Encourage inclusive activities

Rather than just having dancing or drinking, include other activities like games, karaoke, or a photo booth. This will cater to a wider range of interests and reduce the sole focus on alcohol.

Foster group interactions rather than cliques. This not only promotes unity and encourages colleagues who don’t normally spend time together to get to know one another, strengthening internal networks, but can also act as a deterrent to inappropriate behaviour.

7. Post-party follow-up

If any complaints arise post-event, address them immediately. Demonstrating a proactive stance reinforces your commitment to a safe and respectful work environment, and may encourage others who are concerned about raising problems to come forward, or may reduce the likelihood of similar occurrences at other events.

Encourage employees to share feedback after the event. This will provide insights into what went well and areas of improvement for the future.

By taking proactive steps, managers can ensure that everyone feels safe, respected, and included, and the likelihood of sexual harassment taking place at Christmas or other events is significantly reduced.

If you need any advice on avoiding sexual harassment incidents, do get in touch.