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Companies drop liquor at holiday parties amid sexual harassment saga, study says

Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 9:44 AM
By: Jason Lemon - For the AJC

As sexual harassment scandals remain at the forefront of the nation's collective conscious, many companies across the United States aim to cut down on any possibility of such occurrences at holiday parties by removing alcohol from the festivities.

RELATED: Sexual harassment in the workplace: What is it, how to report it and more you should know

Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based consulting firm, conducts an annual survey of American companies and their holiday party plans for employees. This year, the survey noted a dramatic 13 percent drop in companies planning to serve alcohol during their holiday festivities.

Just under 49 percent of the 150 companies included in the survey plan on serving alcohol this year, compared to 62 percent in 2016. Last year's percentage was the highest since the consulting firm began the survey a decade ago, while this year's survey is the first to record a dip in companies planning to serve alcohol.

"Employers are currently very wary of creating an environment where inappropriate contact between employees could occur," Andrew Challenger, vice president of the firm, said in a statement included with the findings.

"One way to create a safer environment is to limit the guest list, hold the party during the workday, and avoid serving alcohol," he added.

Challenger believes that companies have taken notice of the news reports regarding sexual harassment.

With high-profile sexual harassment allegations making headlines, from Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, to Alabama judge and politician Roy Moore, to actor Kevin Spacey and President Donald Trump, among a long list others, workplace sexual harassment has also been thrown into the spotlight.

RELATED: From Weinstein to Lauer: A timeline of 2017's sexual harassment scandals

In a 2015 survey of 2,235 full-time and part-time female employees, Cosmopolitan found that one in three women experienced sexual harassment at work during their lives. While many remain silent about harassment, fearing repercussions, recent media attention and high-profile cases have emboldened many women – and some men – to come forward with their own stories.

As a result, companies across the nation are taking extra precautions in the workplace and during their seasonal gatherings.

"[The company party] should boost morale and let workers know they are valued. It should not put anyone in an uncomfortable situation," Challenger said, explaining that human resources departments definitely don't want the holiday season to be "marred by a disturbing workplace party experience."

Although recent allegations of sexual harassment may increase companies' concerns, steps to avoid uncomfortable and inappropriate situations have been encouraged for years. For instance, the National Federation of Independent Businesses has recommended for several years that companies stop hanging mistletoe at holiday parties, according to TIME.

Some companies have decided against having open bars, offering limited drink tickets to employees instead. Many also specifically ask bar tenders, security guards or designated employees to keep an eye on how much individuals are drinking and monitor their behavior towards others.

While these steps help create a safer environment, employees should also be more aware and monitor their own behavior as well. A recent study conducted by Data marketer Brionna Lewis with auto company Instamotor found that many men aren't really clear on what constitutes sexual harassment.

One in three respondents said they don't think catcalling is sexual harassment, and two in three respondents said they don't think repeated unwanted invitations to dinner, drinks or dates is sexual harassment. At the same time, 45 percent of the men said they've witnessed someone being sexually harassed, with 50 percent of respondents reporting such incidents occurred at work or at a party/bar/nightclub.

RELATED: Woman says she lost work hours after reporting sexual harassment

If you're unclear on what sexual harassment is and/or are wondering how to get help in case you've been harassed, here's a breakdown:

  • The US labor department defines two types of sexual harassment: 1) if an employment decision (such as promotion, assignment or keeping your job) is made based on submission to the sexual harassment, and 2) sexual harassment makes workplace hostile, intimidating, abusive or offensive.
  • Harassment can include (but is not limited to): unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature and non-sexual but offensive remarks about a person's sex.
  • Harassment is illegal when: conduct is unwelcome, conduct is based on the victim's protected gender or sexual orientation status, subjectively abusive to an affected person, or severe and pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would find hostile.
  • The gender or position of the individual doesn't matter. A harasser can be a man or a woman as well as a CEO, manager, co-worker, client or customer.
  • According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the law doesn't prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments or isolated incidents that are "not very serious."
  • But when teasing becomes frequent and severe, creates an adverse or hostile work environment, or results in an adverse employment decision, it then becomes illegal.
  • If you are sexually harassed you should immediately tell the individual the attention is not welcome. You should then inform your manager, employer or HR manager of the situation.
  • For those who find speaking out too difficult, individuals can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), which includes free services and confidential support.