‘Tis the Season for a Holiday Reminder About Harassment

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By Rebecca Meharchand

Though the COVID-19 pandemic is not exactly “over”, it’s 2022 and for the first time in over 2 years, people are finding themselves with more opportunities to celebrate the holidays with friends, family, and even coworkers. And of course, that means the return of the workplace holiday party! 

Though the return of the holiday party is a joyous occasion in and of itself, this is also a good time to take stock of all the ways employers can ensure their holiday parties are as safe as possible, and therefore as enjoyable as possible. 

Employer Obligations Apply at Holiday Parties

Holiday parties can be a great way for teams to connect, relax, and unwind. However, they can also attract liability for employers and individuals. That includes liability for health and safety related claims, including harassment.

Being a workplace event, employers may face liability for the actions of their employees at the holiday party, and this includes human rights complaints for sexual harassment. An employer has an obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and human rights legislation to provide a harassment-free workplace. These obligations continue to apply during the holiday party. As such, in order to minimize any potential liability, employers should ensure these events are properly supervised and appropriately planned.

If any incidents arise at the holiday party, employers may be able to hold employees responsible for their actions. A decision emerging out of British Columbia found in favour of an employee’s termination for cause where a management-level employee engaged in inappropriate sexual behaviours at a holiday party.

‘Tis the Season for a Holiday Reminder About Harassment

In order to ensure that the holiday party is one where everyone feels welcome, employers should remind employees of their obligations in advance of the event, perhaps alongside the invitation, to ensure that everyone has a good understanding of what the behavioural expectations are. In the event that issues start to arise at the holiday party itself, employers should have a plan for how to intervene to ensure that everyone feels safe, and ensure that any problematic behaviours are minimized. 

The past two years have been a trying time for everyone – ensuring that the holiday party is a safe and welcoming environment will allow everyone to enjoy it. 

For more information on how to prevent harassment in the workplace, or in a workplace party setting, please reach out to us at Seabrook Workplace Law

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