We were enjoying a mid-week lunch in a local San Francisco Bay Area restaurant in early December and were distracted by a raucous outburst from fellow patrons. An extended table of 15-20 guests wearing the unmistakable sparkle of a holiday office celebration. They were playing some kind of white elephant gift exchange game that involved opening extravagantly wrapped packages. As we glanced up, the latest recipient was donning a holiday sweater replete with glowing lights and a red-nosed reindeer. The group members were obviously—and loudly–enjoying themselves.
Office holiday parties are not always such enjoyable experiences for all attendees. Particularly when alcohol is served, inappropriate behavior can run rampant. Sexual harassment can take many forms, and while people are more likely to be relaxed at holiday parties here in San Francisco or elsewhere in the Bay Area, it is important to recognize when conduct crosses the line. Some examples of harassing conduct include:
• Unwanted and unwelcome touching, for example forced kissing under the mistletoe,
• Giving or receiving inappropriate or sexually suggestive gifts,
• Making inappropriate or sexual remarks,
• Making employees play uncomfortable party games such as “Twister,” “truth or Dare” or “Spin the Bottle,”
• Inappropriate remarks about an employee’s appearance, and
• Propositioning a co-worker.
Despite a common misconception, conduct that occurs outside of the office or after work hours is still protected by civil rights laws and employees should know their rights. Although a single outrageous incident at a holiday party may constitute sexual harassment, it is more often the case that this action is part of a pattern of misconduct that has occurred over time creating a hostile work environment.
Here at the California Civil Rights Law Group, our attorneys have experience in successfully representing sexual harassment victims against employers large and small in jury trials and arbitrations. If you have questions about sexual harassment, contact the California Civil Rights Law Group at 415-453-4740. With offices in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Anselmo, it’s easy to have a confidential meeting with a sexual harassment lawyer – we can also speak over the telephone.
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