Did you know that if a co-worker or manager sexually harasses you outside the workplace, it’s still considered sexual harassment and prohibited behavior? Too many people – even managers – don’t realize this.
While an employer can’t be expected to regulate their employees’ behavior in all settings, they have a responsibility to make sure they know what is and isn’t allowed. An employer can be held liable for this kind of behavior if they are aware of it and do nothing.
These situations often arise at social events like Happy Hours, holiday parties and company picnics. They can also occur at off-site work events and conferences. Many times, alcohol is involved, but that’s no justification for an employee’s inappropriate behavior.
What’s important to know is that if a fellow employee engages in sexual harassment outside the workplace, you have as much right to report it to your manager or your Human Resources department as if it occurred in your workplace. You also have a right to be taken seriously when you report the harassment – whether you’re reporting your own experience with harassment or something you witnessed.
No excuses are acceptable
That means the matter must be investigated so that appropriate disciplinary action is taken. You shouldn’t hear excuses like, “He’s a different person when he’s had a few too many,” or “She didn’t mean any harm. She was just being flirty.”
You also shouldn’t be told things like, “Well, don’t go out drinking with us if you don’t want that to happen.” Socialization outside of work with colleagues is often crucial to success in a company. You shouldn’t have to avoid that because some people don’t know how to behave.
Hostile work environment
The reason sexual harassment and other prohibited workplace behavior isn’t allowed outside of work is that it follows the victim back to the workplace. How can you be expected to feel safe at work with this person who harassed you nearby – perhaps working on projects with you or preventing you from being chosen for projects or promotions because you rejected and/or reported them? It can and often does create a hostile work environment.
If you’ve reported sexual harassment to your employer and they’ve failed to act or even retaliated against you as a result, it’s wise to seek legal guidance to protect your rights as well as your career.