- An employee has significant performance problems. His supervisor takes him out for dinner, drinks, and a heart-to-heart discussion about those problems. The discussion becomes heated, insults are traded, and the evening ends with a physical fight in the parking lot.
- An employer hosts a lavish holiday party with an open bar. After several hours of drinking and dancing, a manager and one of his subordinates leave the party, go to their office, and have a sexual encounter. The manager insists the encounter was consensual, but the subordinate claims it was not consensual and says she was sexually harassed and assaulted.
- An employer has a regular Friday afternoon “kegger” social gathering in the break room. At one such gathering, a group of employees gets into a lively discussion of gender and feminism. To make a point, an employee repeatedly uses a sexually explicit language. Several listeners are offended and complain to HR.
Workplace conflicts can create employer liability in a number of ways, including through harassment complaints and claims of negligence. Harassment complaints are usually brought under anti-discrimination laws. In addition, employers have a duty under federal law to provide a workplace free from “recognized hazards.” Washington state has a regulation that prohibits alcohol in the workplace, although there are exceptions, such as for social events after work. Such statutes, as well as common law causes of action for negligence, provide remedies to employees who are harmed by other employees.
- Limit the amount of alcohol—particularly free alcohol—provided. Limit its effect by providing food and non-alcoholic drinks.
- Affirmatively discourage over-consumption by employees.
- Make sure that upper management models good behavior by limiting consumption and controlling behavior.
- Offer cab rides or hotel rooms to inebriated employees after social events. Encourage the use of designated drivers.
- Monitor social events and interactions in the workplace when alcohol is consumed, and intervene to prevent inappropriate or risky behavior.
Posted by Judy Langevin