“'The Weinstein Effect'” on Holiday Parties—No Booze? What A Snooze!

By: Amy Epstein Gluck

Human Resources Departments are wringing their proverbial hands this month about the company holiday party.

Open bar?

No bar?

Drinks tickets? Like, 2 per person.

No party at all?

What to do, what to do. In this article, WaPo features reporter Lavanya Ramanathan writes about these considerations that companies, particularly their HR departments, are contending with as they furiously rewrite their EEO policies to express that the company has ZERO TOLERANCE for sexual harassment. She talked to one lawyer (no, not me) who dubbed it “the Weinstein Effect.”

There is a tsunami of public and private allegations right now against men accused of sexual harassment, but we’ve been writing about the sexual harassment cases we see for years. The difference seems to be the sea change in what society will tolerate and an avalanche of sexual harassment claims that employers fear will swamp them.

But does an open bar at the holiday party encourage sexual harassment?

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Maybe. As Ramanathan reported, that’s what human resources staffers said in an informal poll conducted this fall—of companies that are even having a party, only 49 percent of companies said they planned to serve alcohol at their soirees. That’s compared with nearly 62 percent last year.

Ramanathan explained that some companies, like Vox, are providing two drink tickets per person at their company party. Drink tickets! But hey, look, I’m in the business of employment risk management, and so this makes good common sense to me. In general, alcohol loosens inhibitions resulting in people saying things and engaging in conduct they may not have otherwise done. I think it makes sense to limit the means that some individuals use to relax their own inhibitions.

If, as employers, we are going to really have “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment, it may be prudent to eradicate a substance at a workplace event that is known to increase the likelihood of the occurrence of sexual harassment. Just a thought.

 

Amy Epstein Gluck

Amy Epstein Gluck

Amy Epstein Gluck has represented individuals and corporate clients in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and various federal district courts for more than twenty years. Ms. Epstein Gluck’s current practice areas include employment law—advising on and drafting employment agreements; handling employment negotiations, severance agreements, noncompete and nondisclosure agreements, “wrongful terminations” and other EEO matters; representation at the EEOC level; advising employers about discrimination laws and how to remain in compliance, and employment negotiations.