What Can Be Done About Sexual Harassment at an Office or Holiday Party?

The office holiday party is supposed to be a time when you get to meet with your coworkers and mingle with your co-workers and sometimes get to co-mingle with people that you don't normally get to see at the office and see people that you haven't seen in a more relaxed and less formal environment. Unfortunately, that less formal environment can lead to sexual harassment. In most sexual harassment situations during the holiday party alcohol is involved. It lowers people's inhibitions and with that more relaxed atmosphere people get braver and they will say things that they normally wouldn't say in the office environment or the work environment, and they do things that they wouldn't normally do. Just because an office party is serving alcohol or it's a more informal environment doesn't mean that you can be sexually harassed. Here at Phillips & Associates, we handle many of these cases. We have the knowledge, we have the experience to deal with your case or your situation and we can usually deal with it confidentially. So if you feel that you've been discriminated against or sexually harassed at your office holiday party please call the experienced attorneys at Phillips & Associates. I think we can help you.

Employment Lawyers Assisting New York City Workers

An office or holiday party is usually organized by a company in order to encourage better relationships among coworkers, supervisors, and managers and to celebrate. Being in a more relaxed setting, however, may result in a loss of the usual inhibitions that people display in the workplace. If you believe that you were sexually harassed at an office or holiday party, you should contact us. At Phillips & Associates, our New York City sexual harassment attorneys regularly handle sexual harassment claims, including those that center on events outside normal work hours. We are experienced and sensitive to the humiliation and worry that people feel after being sexually harassed. Often, we can deal with the situation confidentially.

What Can Be Done About Sexual Harassment at an Office or Holiday Party?

Holiday parties are potentially sites for sexual harassment, since employees are relaxed and alcohol is often imbibed. Sometimes these parties are scheduled offsite. Employers claim that attendance is optional, but they may take multiple measures to make sure that you come. Any holiday party for work is covered by the same laws as ordinary workplace harassment is.

Sometimes sexual harassment at an office party takes the form of sexual remarks or advances. In other situations, rape or sexual assault by a coworker or supervisor occurs. In these situations, you should report what happened as soon as you can. You can usually find an internal grievance procedure in your employment handbook. If not, it is often appropriate to report the matter to HR in writing. Providing the notification by email may be particularly effective because the matter is documented and also stamped with the date and time that you sent it.

An employer may be held strictly liable for sexual harassment by an owner of the company. For example, if you work for a partnership, and one of the partners harasses you, the whole company may be held responsible even if the other partner does not have notice of the harassment.

In some cases, employers have raised the defense that the employee did not suffer a tangible employment action. If it can show that it took reasonable steps to promptly remedy any harassment, but you did not take advantage of the preventive opportunities that were provided to avoid harm, this defense may be successful.

However, a court has held that the New York City Human Rights Law imposes vicarious liability on an employer for discrimination by a manager or supervisor, even if the employer did not know nor should have known about those acts. It has also found liability for a coworker in situations in which a manager knew and acquiesced to the coworker's actions. In other words, even if the employer did try to fix things after you were sexually harassed at a holiday party, you may have a claim.

Recovering Damages for Sexual Harassment

The broadest protection against sexual harassment in New York City is usually the New York City Human Rights Law. It applies to even employers that have only one employee. In contrast, Title VII only covers employers with 15 or more employees. Federal, state, and local laws have their own bodies of law interpreting sexual harassment and the kinds of actions or comments at a holiday party that might be considered sexual harassment. Each case is different.

Damages that you may be able to recover for sexual harassment at a holiday party vary depending on how egregious the conduct was and which steps were taken afterward. Generally, however, you may be able to recover:

  • Back pay from the date of your discharge to the date that you accept or refuse an offer of reinstatement,
  • Front pay as compensation for the future effects of discrimination,
  • Compensatory damages like mental distress damages,
  • Out-of-pocket costs, and
  • Possible punitive damages.

Retain a New York City Lawyer to Protect Your Rights

If you suffered through sexual harassment at a holiday party, you should retain an experienced New York City attorney. At Phillips & Associates, we are dedicated to securing justice. We understand how demeaning sexual harassment is when you are just trying to relax and get to know your fellow workers. Contact us online or call us at (866) 229-9441 for a free appointment with an employment discrimination lawyer. We serve people in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, the Bronx, and Queens, as well as in Suffolk, Nassau, and Westchester Counties and New Jersey.