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The (not so) hidden dangers of the holiday party

Posted by Scott M. Peterson | Dec 10, 2019

It's the end of the year - time to wrap up outstanding work items, plan for next year, and celebrate your success at the company holiday party!

While holiday parties are a great opportunity for employees to celebrate successes and another year gone by, there are also a few not-so-hidden dangers along the way.  Do your best to avoid them, or if you've suffered from one, give us a call. 

Not-so-hidden danger #1: Drunken sexual harassment. 

This one is (or should be) obvious, and while it may seem like a cliche it still happens.  Often.

Classic example: John has always had a friendly relationship with Mary, a younger sales associate on his team.  While Mary has a boyfriend, John is single, and "has a thing" for Mary. 

At the office holiday party the drinks are flowing.  A couple of hours in John gets Mary in a corner and, mistakenly (drunkenly) thinks she's showing interest in him physically.  So he makes a move.  She rejects him, but in his inebriated state he pushes a little too hard.  Mary eventually gets away from him, but the damage is done.

This action by John, in and of itself, constitutes sexual harassment, for which John and the company could be responsible. 

To make matters worse, on Monday Mary makes a complaint (as she should) to HR.  When John gets wind of it, he becomes very upset, and in a short sighted fit he pulls a significant amount of work from Mary.  Since she's in sales, and is paid on commission, this will result in a 70% decrease in her pay.

In this scenario, not only has John sexually harassed Mary, but in his knee-jerk reaction to her complaint he has also retaliated against her in a way that will cause her real financial damage.  Big problem.

And while this may seem like an exaggerated example, it's not and in fact it is less severe than many cases.

Don't wake up regretting the office party


Not-so-hidden danger #2: The inappropriate toast

Similar to the sexual harassment example above, the inappropriate toast (often fueled by too much alcohol) can get a company into trouble quickly.  

The problem with too much drinking in a professional environment is that (among other things) it makes people think that they're funnier than they really are.  

Which leads to off color jokes that go well beyond "borderline offensive," and head straight into discrimination territory.   Jokes about employee attire, sexual relationships between co-workers, racial stereotypes - these all come out when the boss has had too much to drink, and in many cases they can subject an employer to liability. 

Not-so-hidden danger #3: The drunken drive home.

We've all seen the person who has clearly had one (or several) too many but insists on getting behind the wheel after a party.  

Big no-no.

If an employee gets behind the wheel, intoxicated, after the holiday party and hits and injures or kills someone - this is a big problem not only for the employee but for the company as well as the establishment that served the intoxicated person.  In this case the victim could likely bring claims against all three: against the employee for driving while intoxicated and causing the accident; against the employer for sponsoring the event and encouraging the consumption; and against the establishment for a dram shop violation by serving the intoxicated person after they were visibly drunk.  

Yet this scenario remains far too common despite ride sharing and other services that easily allow employees to avoid driving after drinking too much.

Drunk driving accidents are entirely avoidable

So, if you're out partying this holiday season enjoy it.  But keeping these scenarios in mind will help you get through without a problem, and if you are the unfortunate victim of any of the above scenarios contact us today.  

About the Author

Scott M. Peterson

Scott M. Peterson is the founding partner of D'Orazio Peterson, having left a partnership at a large regional law firm to limit his practice and focus on helping people protect their families.

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