Buck stops with the bosses

Garry Hertzberg, practising attorney at Dewey Hertzberg Levy Incorporated and presenter of the Laws of Life with Garry Hertzberg on Cliffcentral.com writes:

I was at a Christmas year-end company function at a restaurant and there was another Christmas party going on at the same restaurant. Towards the end of the night, at the other table, I saw a young woman lying on her back on the table and allowing her wild colleagues to take shots of liquor off her exposed stomach, commonly known as body shots.

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There were some older and more distinguished revellers and it was clear to me that she was in the company of her managers and possibly even the directors of the organisation.

The girl was clearly drunk, and being cheered on by all her colleagues, how could she refuse? With lowered inhibitions and a perceived need to fit into the culture, maybe just to keep her job, it struck me that this young woman had not really consented to being used this way – she was intoxicated and was at an unfair disadvantage.

The other employees at the party joined in on the fun, willingly or unwillingly. I actually know that, legally, if she decided the next day that she had been sexually harassed at the party, she would have had a very solid case. Her employer and colleagues had, in fact, taken advantage of her. Even though she had allowed it at the time, consent under intoxication is not an informed consent.

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The woman could sue the company as the bosses allowed it and, therefore, the company is at fault. Any manager who sees this type of behaviour cannot allow it to happen and must put a stop to it as soon as it comes up, or face the consequences.

The simple truth is that if you can’t do it in the office, you can’t do it at an office function, Christmas party, training conference or wherever.

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These events are extensions of the workplace and the same standards and rules must apply, especially when it has the potential to be seen as harassment.

It’s more than just a legal issue, it’s a moral obligation for people in authority to look after their staff and make sure that nobody does anything they will regret the next day.

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