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All I want for Christmas… is a harassment-free office holiday party

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There’s a crispness in the air that reminds me that winter is just around the corner. At the risk of being “that person,” I love this season; sitting by a crackling fire with my family and a cup of tea is what I consider perfection. Like me, some human resources departments are also gearing up for their end-of-year gatherings – apparently, office holiday parties are back in style.

A recent survey reported that 76 percent of US companies plan to hold holiday parties this year. That’s an 11-point increase from last year, when only 65 percent would – the lowest number of parties since the recession. At the time, commentators had speculated that, among other things, employers thought that an office party could create the conditions for staff to misbehave, so they avoided them altogether. Their concern was not unreasonable, especially in the post-#MeToo era, but there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s possible to plan an office holiday party that is safe and respectful for everyone. Here are some ideas to keep in mind:

1. Make a list and check it twice

Last year, the survey above reported that, of the companies that would hold holiday parties, only 58 percent were planning to address appropriate conduct with their staff prior to the party (or had already done so in the previous months). As you gear up for your party, give your employees a reminder on what conduct is allowed and not allowed in the workplace—including off-site venues—so that everyone is on the same page. And if you have never trained employees on your harassment policies, now might be a good time to fit that in.

2. Have a cup of cheer

As an employer, you may be liable for any harm experienced by intoxicated employees during or after a company event. To mitigate this risk, you might consider handing out a limited amount of drink tickets per person, having a cash bar (instead of an open bar), serving lots of food throughout the event, and ensuring that there are plenty of non-alcoholic beverages available. Be prepared to monitor consumption and cut people off if you need to.

3. Said the night wind to the little lamb: Do you see what I see?

At the party, be on the lookout for anyone who may be in an uncomfortable situation and intervene as necessary. Respectful workplaces are a shared responsibility – check out my colleague Megan Forward’s blog on bystander intervention. Ideally, everyone in the workplace ought to be trained to recognise inappropriate situations and how to intervene, but management has a higher duty of care in this regard.

4. Ho ho, the mistletoe…

Let’s be real: standing underneath a plant does not consent make! Save the mistletoe for your private parties and choose other ways to decorate the boardroom. And remember that any harassment or other misconduct that you become aware of may need to be addressed.

5. Oh, what fun it is to ride home in a taxi or transit

Ensure that everyone has a safe way to get home after the event. Consider providing employees with taxi chits or suggest that they arrange designated drivers or take public transit. When you invite staff to the party, you could suggest that people plan how they will get home.

Despite all best efforts, incidents of harassment and sexual misconduct may still occur. The best way to ensure that your office holiday party is harassment-free is to have already laid a solid foundation with staff, by keeping your workplace policies up-to-date and regularly training your employees on them.

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