Since the #MeToo movement brought the issue of workplace sexual harassment to the forefront of public consciousness last year, many employers in the US and around the world have been reconsidering some of their policies and practices to reduce the likelihood of misconduct occurring or being tolerated within their organization. During last winter’s holiday season, more employers decided against serving alcohol at their office holiday parties, mindful of the risk that a drunk employee could engage in sexual harassment or other behavior that would incur liability for the organization. Others eschewed open bars in favor of drink ticket systems that limited employees to just two or three drinks, or other methods for discouraging overconsumption.
Now that summer is here, US employers are looking at another season of office parties, outings, and happy hours where these risks must be considered yet again. At The American Lawyer, reporter Meghan Tribe looks into how Big Law firms are rethinking their perks for summer associates, high-achieving law students exploring careers at the firm, who have traditionally enjoyed boozy dinners and other events over the course of their summer associate program jobs. Patrick Krill, a behavioral health consultant for the legal sector, explained to Tribe that, “In light of #MeToo movement, an open bar at a summer associate event is potentially a tinderbox of liability,” particularly since so many workplace sexual harassment claims in the industry are linked back to events with alcohol.
As an alternative, Tribe reports, some firms are redesigning their summer associate programs around events that don’t involve drinking. The itinerary for Goodwin Procter summer associates this year, for example, includes spin classes, cooking classes, and trips to the theater. The firm has also mandated anti-harassment training for all its employees (including summer associates), and will limit the availability of alcohol at work functions. Aside from the liability concerns, Goodwin Procter views its revamped summer associate program as an opportunity to communicate its culture and values, as well as demonstrate that it has gotten the message of #MeToo.
Organizations or teams planning summer events can take a few lessons from what these law firms and other companies are doing.
The witching hour is upon us, and SHRM’s legal blogger Allen Smith highlights some of the spooky liabilities employers can court with typical workplace Halloween events:
Take an employer that set up a haunted house on its premises in a town that did not have one. The Midwest-based financial services company thought that it was being altruistic, but because of the haunted house’s poor design, a chainsaw-wielding accountant dressed up as Jason Voorhees from the “Friday the 13th” horror movies chased an intern into a wall and she broke her nose. If a company is not in the business of running haunted houses, it should think twice before setting one up, cautioned Philippe Weiss, managing director of Seyfarth Shaw at Work in Chicago.
Even if no one is injured, Halloween events at work are sometimes so over the top that they lead to bad public relations. … Costumes can also pose safety risks at work, so costume guidelines may be in order. In manufacturing settings, there’s a risk of injuries from long flowing costumes, said John McLafferty, an attorney with Day Pitney in Boston.
Halloween events, particularly costume parties, run risks from the perspective of diversity and inclusion as well. As Fortune’s Ellen McGirt observes, some people take their Halloween costumes well beyond the bounds of sensible taste, and are still showing up to work events dressed to offend colleagues and customers:
At Chief Executive, Ross Kelly passes along the findings of a UK survey showing that employees are increasingly slowing down at work in the weeks leading up to the end-of-year holidays, decreasing productivity for much or all of the month of December:
Just over half of the 3,000 British workers questioned by Danish human resources consultancy Peakon had “clicked off” by December 16. Perhaps more worryingly, 12% said they had started winding down before December.
“Christmas seems to be starting earlier every year,” said Peakon co-founder Dan Rogers, who recalls only getting a half-day off on Christmas Eve 15 years ago, if he was lucky. “Now, it appears the whole week ahead of Christmas is a productivity write-off, and in many cases, the next week is, too.”
He blames increased commercialism: retailers want to start Christmas early to profit from an extended festive season. And all those discounts, ads and flashy mall decorations have swayed our collective consciousness.
Rogers suggests four ways for managers to mitigate the slump in the run-up to the holidays: Hold your office holiday party as late as possible, hold a “fun” day immediately before vacation, don’t hold performance reviews in November, and if possible, close the office for the week between Christmas and New Year’s (He’s not the first to make that suggestion, either).