Company events such as office happy hours, holiday parties, and team-building activities like baseball games or bowling outings can serve as valuable opportunities for colleagues to bond and foster a positive work environment. While these events can offer a fun change of scenery and a chance to bond with colleagues, they also present unique challenges when it comes to maintaining professional standards and upholding workplace rights. It’s crucial to remember that federal and state laws can protect employees from sexual harassment in these situations just as they do within the four walls of the office, especially if these events are sanctioned by the employer.
Sexual harassment can take many forms, including unwelcome sexual advances, gender-based comments or jokes, inappropriate touching, groping, and assault. This inappropriate behavior is not limited to physical settings but may extend to online platforms as well. In our increasingly digital world, online sexual harassment via Zoom meetings, messenger apps, texts, or other digital communication tools is also a serious concern and that may be punishable under the law.
Laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace protect all employees, including interns. It’s crucial that companies take steps create a safe environment at their off-site events where employees are not subjected to unwelcome and inappropriate behavior. Employers should also empower employees to speak up if they believe they have been subjected to harassment and discrimination in the workplace or any off-site events.
The same laws that protect individuals within the office setting may also apply in these off-site settings. This means that an employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free from sexual harassment, even at off-site company events or during online interactions related to work.
It’s also important to understand that the company can be held liable for failing to take appropriate remedial measures after an incident is reported. Once an employee reports sexual harassment, the employer has a duty to investigate the matter promptly and thoroughly, and to take steps to prevent further harassment.
If you believe that you’ve been subjected to sexual harassment at work, including at an off-site event or during an online work-related interaction, you should consult with an experienced employment attorney who can help you navigate your next steps.
At Outten & Golden LLP, we are dedicated to fighting for the rights of employees who have been subjected to sexual harassment. No employee should have to endure sexual harassment, whether in the office, at an off-site event, or during online interactions. If you believe you’ve experienced such conduct, please contact the firm through the “Contact Us” form to begin the Outten & Golden intake process.
 Parrish v. Sollecito, No. 01 Civ. 5420, 249 F. Supp. 2d 342, 350-351 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (holding that it was proper to consider conduct that took place outside of the workplace, at a restaurant reception, to determine whether the work environment was sufficiently severe and pervasive under Title VII); Roelcke v. Zip Aviation, LCC, 15 Civ. 6284, 2018 WL 1792374 at *7 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 26, 2018) (“to bar quid pro quo claims involving conduct that took place outside the workplace would be to take all teeth out of that cause of action by allowing predatory supervisors to make sexual advances outside of the workplace while still holding victims’ jobs hostage”); Thompson v. S. Amboy Comprehensive Treatment Ctr., 18 Civ. 9923, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 162541, at *18 (D.N.J. Aug. 27, 2021) (stating that “‘harassment by a supervisor that takes place outside of the workplace can be actionable,’ because, …’[c]onduct that takes place outside of the workplace has a tendency to permeate the workplace.’”) (quoting Blakey v. Cont’l Airlines, 164 N.J. 38, 45 (2000).