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Tiffanny Brosnan, partner at Snell & Wilmer LLP  

Click Here for Tiffanny Brosnan's Bio

Monday, December 22, 2008
Mandatory sexual harassment training
Holiday parties
Employees + alcohol + a little too much of the holiday spirit = litigation. The calls usually start in January, and they go something like this:

Client: I’m looking at a lawyer letter that says one of my managers groped a subordinate at the holiday party. According to the letter, the woman was forced to quit after the incident and is now suffering severe emotional distress. They’re threatening to file a lawsuit. What do we do to avoid this happening in the future?

The following are some simple steps to take to possibly avoid a lawsuit, the most expensive form of the holiday hangover:

1. Redistribute your Harassment-Free Workplace Policy shortly before your holiday party. Remind employees that holiday parties are work events, and the regular workplace rules apply. If you don’t have a Harassment-Free Workplace Policy, get one. The California Chamber of Commerce is a great source for employee handbooks, mandatory posters and other forms.

2. Invite spouses and significant others to the holiday party. Their watchful eyes are better than anything you can write in a handbook. Taking this theory a step further, consider inviting clients or employees’ families. A more business-like or family-friendly atmosphere will reduce bad behavior.

3. Speaking of bad behavior – alcohol diminishes judgment, not liability. When alcohol is served, keep consumption in check. Offering food is a must. Consider using drink tickets. Hire a professional bartender to check IDs and verify that only those 21 or older are drinking. Instruct the bartender to use his or her judgment in “cutting off” intoxicated guests. Offer to reimburse employees for the cost of their cab fare home.

Bah, humbug.