You know that a co-worker or manager isn’t allowed to sexually harass you at work. Your employer provides regular training to remind everyone. However, if you’re out with a group at happy hour after work or at a colleague’s wedding, and another employee gets too handsy or makes inappropriate comments, do you assume that you just have to fend them off and try to forget about it?
Sexual harassment by a co-worker or manager is prohibited even if you’re not in the workplace, at a work event or on “company time.” Even inappropriate messages via social media may be considered employee harassment.
Often this off-site harassment involves occasions where alcohol is present, which can include seemingly innocent events like company picnics, softball games and volunteer events in addition to holiday parties and conventions where alcohol is typically free flowing. Employers can be held liable (and have been) for sexual harassment if they fail to act on it, wherever it occurs.
Why is sexual harassment outside the workplace considered a workplace problem?
If a colleague or manager harassed you outside of work, that’s not something you can just forget when you come into work the next day – or perhaps ever. You may try to avoid them – if you can. If it’s your boss or someone with whom you work closely, you’ll be forced to deal with them. You could feel uneasy or even unsafe.
Further, if your harasser is someone in authority, you could find yourself being ignored when opportunities come along. They could find a reason to terminate you or make your life so miserable that you’ll want to leave. In short, sexual harassment, wherever it occurs, can create a hostile work environment.
If you’ve suffered sexual harassment at the hands (literally or figuratively) of another employee, you need to report it to your manager and/or the Human Resources department. Your employer has an obligation to investigate the matter and deal with it appropriately. If you believe that your employer hasn’t taken a complaint seriously or you’ve suffered retaliation for reporting it, it’s time to seek legal guidance to better understand your options.