The holiday season should be a time of celebration and gratitude with your employees. But an unwary employer could end up with legal trouble if the year-end festivities lead to any accidental or intentional harassment of employees. How could your employees suffer harassment during the holidays? And what can you do to protect the company? Here are five things to watch out for.
1. When Alcohol Flows
Whether it's a company party or just a welcome break after a big sale, any time you allow alcohol among employees, you risk liability for inebriated behavior. This can include aggressive behavior and sexual advances. While the best way to avoid this is to stop serving it altogether, you can also take mitigation steps like controlling portions, using servers, and choosing low-alcohol options.
2. At the Office Party
Unfortunately, office holiday parties can get out of hand. Unwanted advances and harassment based on gender or sexual orientation may occur. These can be expensive liabilities for employers, so manage your office parties well. Schedule daytime parties rather than nighttime ones, set a time limit, and remind employees about unacceptable behavior before you get started.
3. When Exchanging Gifts
Gift-giving is nice, but it might cause harassment through inappropriate gifts or even bullying about a person's religious beliefs. Employer gifts should be professional and secular, and they should never show favoritism for particular employees. If employees want to exchange personal gifts, ask them to do so away from company property.
4. In the Decorations
Decorations like Christmas trees and snowmen are generally acceptable for any workplace, but don't let them make employees feel uncomfortable about their personal beliefs or traditions. Putting up only Christmas decor, for instance, can lead to harassment of non-Christian employees or those whose beliefs preclude celebrating the holiday. Represent all beliefs fairly and never let employees feel pressured.
5. When Taking Time Off
Employers are legally required to make reasonable accommodations for employees' religious practices and beliefs. During the holiday season, more employees may want to attend religious observances. As you follow the law in making accommodations whenever possible, never let other employees harass anyone about their need for that time off or how they observe their faiths.
Want to know more about preventing harassment at your business? Start by meeting with an employment attorney in your state today. The earlier you know how to fend off problems, the better your holidays will be for you and all your employees. Contact an employment attorney for more information.
If you are a business owner, there are bound to be times when you ask yourself, "is this legal?" You may have this question before you sign a certain contract, fire an employee, or set a new policy for your customers. The best person to answer this question is, of course, a business attorney. They have specific training and experience to guide business owners in making smart legal decisions. The posts on this blog are all related to business attorneys and the work that they do. We think you'll benefit from reading them, whether you own a business yourself or are thinking of getting into business law.