“Ask Sarah” Column

Dear Sarah,

We recently had a holiday party where an employee exhibited some bad behaviors, and we are concerned about our employees’ safety during other off-duty events in the future. We have a policy against harassment in the workplace, but we are not sure if that policy also applies to other off-duty events like conferences. Does the anti-harassment policy apply to bad behavior at holiday parties and other off-duty events, and how should we address and respond to these issues in the future?

To Party or Not to Party

Dear To Party or Not to Party,

Holiday parties and other employer-sponsored events are an extension of the workplace, and employers are responsible for employee behaviors at these events. Therefore, your anti-harassment policies and other employee conduct policies apply during these events. If an employee exhibits bad behavior (such as harassment, bullying, or intoxication), you should address the employee in accordance with your established policies and procedures. Texas law now requires immediate action upon receipt of a sexual harassment complaint, so you should begin addressing the complaint as soon as it is received.

Employer-sponsored parties and events are great for employee morale and engagement, but employers should follow best practices leading up to and during these events. Some best practices include limiting the event to a few hours with a clear end time, providing rides or ride credits for employees to get home safely, reminding employees in writing of relevant employee conduct policies, limiting alcohol consumption, monitoring behaviors during the event, having a plan to address bad behavior, and planning non alcohol-related activities.

Employers can also be responsible for employee behavior at conferences and other work-related professional events. If you receive a complaint about an employee’s behavior at a work-sponsored conference, you should investigate and respond appropriately. Additionally, many conference organizers create anti-harassment policies and/or standards of conduct for the conference that you should review with employees prior to attendance at the conference, as violation of those standards may impact an employee’s ability to return the following year, among other consequences.

Finally, do not forget that off-duty harassment, either in person (i.e., at events outside the workplace that are not sponsored or controlled by the employer) or on social media, should be treated the same—immediate investigation and if necessary, appropriate corrective action. We assist employers with working through these issues, including conducting investigations and addressing the findings, so please call us if you need help with any aspect of addressing and responding to employee bad behavior.

“Ask Sarah” is prepared by Sarah Glaser, Chair of the Firm’s Employment Law Practice Group, and Jessi Maynard, an Associate in the Firm’s Employment Law Practice Group. If you would like additional information or have questions related to this article or other employment matters, please contact Sarah at 512.322.5881 or sglaser@lglawfirm.com, or Jessi at 512.322.5807 or jmaynard@lglawfirm.com.

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