The two most worrisome terms a company personnel manager can string together in a sentence might be these: open bar and office Christmas party.
One employee’s idea of dance-floor enthusiasm might not agree with that of the co-worker he has just coaxed under the disco ball. One employee’s willingness to set aside his 9-to-5 inhibitions might not jibe with that of his more discreet associates. Add a half-dozen vodka tonics to that imbalance and it only gets worse.
Meet AB 1825, which becomes law Jan. 1. If you run a company with more than 50 employees or contract workers, you should already have been introduced. The new law, signed into law in September 2004 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (who, I’m told, knows a thing or two about sexual harassment allegations), requires employers to provide training for supervisors every two years.
Sexual harassment isn’t just an appropriate topic now because the law is about to take effect. It’s appropriate because we’re moving deeper into that most treacherous of potential sexual-harassment minefields, the company Christmas party.
“You get it all this time of year,” said Bakersfield attorney Daniel Klingenberger. “Employees need to remember that just because it’s outside of normal work hours, they still need to treat each other with respect. A lot of these issues have to do with respect. And hopefully people will show respect even after a couple martinis.”
Sexual harassment has been in the workplace vernacular for years but, even with companies paying plaintiffs sizable liability damages in court, some supervisors still don’t seem to get it.
“In some ways things haven’t changed much as far as the complaints I get,” Klingenberger said. “The jokes. The sexual innuendo. There’s probably less of that than there was. More and more people realize that’s off limits, but it certainly still happens.”
Bakersfield attorney Thomas Anton says that a company’s demonstrated level of commitment can mean almost as much as the actions of its employees.
“What’ll happen is, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers will say, ‘Wait a minute, has anyone taken a look at whether you’ve conducted your training?’” Anton said. “If you have, that’s one thing. But if you haven’t, that’s an indication you didn’t follow the law and you don’t care. Now we’re looking at punitive damages.”
"If the pink slip doesn't fit,