Do Work Rules Apply at Work Parties?

Daniel asks:

What’s the go with work functions? There were drinks last week for one of the people who were retiring. My boss was there and most of the staff.  I got a bit trashed and started making comments to one of the women I work with in front of everyone. I was being funny and I was just having a laugh and a flirt with her but she got all upset and carried on. I guess I should say sorry but surely it’s not a work issue as it happened after hours?

Hi Daniel, Sometimes the fallout from a work party isn’t just feeling a bit seedy the day after.

Even though it’s a social situation similar rules of behavior apply at work functions (like a Christmas party or leaving drinks) as when you’re actually at work. Unwelcome sexual behavior, whether it’s physical, verbal or written (e.g. in a Christmas card) which could be expected to make a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated, is likely to constitute sexual harassment. This could give rise to a claim against you and/or your employer. It might also in some cases be valid grounds for dismissal.

Everyone should be able to attend a work function safely, not having to fear predatory behavior or comments. And make no mistake, that’s what your colleague experienced.

If you’re not a member of the union and if you’re called in for a meeting about this, request to take a support person in with you. They won’t be able to represent you but they can take notes for you of what is said. If you’re given a warning letter to sign you have the right to take it away before signing it. Don’t sign anything you disagree with and you’re also entitled to a copy of anything you sign. If you’re not already a union member, give us a call 1300 486 466 and we’ll help you join. We may not be able to assist you with this as it’s something that’s happened before you joined; but you’ll have the security of knowing you’re protected for the future.

I’m going to give you some advice: Learn from this. Think about your behavior and take responsibility for it.  Have you apologized to your colleague? Don’t couch it in terms of “I’m sorry if you’re upset” –  your colleague’s reaction to what happened isn’t the issue, what you said and did is the problem.

 End of year work break-ups are nearly upon us and although fun, it’s important to remember that what is “Just a joke” to one person could actually be offensive, hurtful and demeaning to the person it’s directed at. This doesn’t just apply to the actual party but also to writing in Christmas cards, choosing Kris Kringle presents and so on.

 Approach the party season as you should any interaction: with care and respect for others and you’ll have a good time and more importantly so will everyone else.

Date Published: 29/11/2017 Category: Opinion Workers rights

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