Employer-sponsored holiday gatherings of co-workers is a common occurrence. Employers are wise to try and create events showing appreciation for employees to reduce turnover, keep up productivity, and just have a little fun. Everyone gets together, has a glass of wine or two....then workplace decorum starts to decrease and the employer's risk starts to increase. As workplace decorum slips, drinks start to flow, and the casual atmosphere takes hold, the prospect of an unwanted or sexually charged comment or advance looms larger. Goodbye fun times, Hello sexual harassment claim.
Employers are wise to forewarn employees (and guests of employees) of their expected behavior at workplace parties. Minnesota law has extended an employer's liability for sexual harassment by its employees to off-site venues when the gathering is sponsored by the employer. Minnesota's definition of sexual harassment includes any comment, act, or suggestion, whether explicit or implicit, of a sexual nature.
One helpful step employers can take is to circulate to its employees a written reminder of the employer's lack of tolerance for any inappropriate comments, overtures, or acts, and to assign two or more persons at any workplace party to refrain from drinking any alcohol at the function. If you or someone you know would like assistance addressing its workforce, please contact us for a free consultation.
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