Online Office Christmas Parties:
The line between Ho Ho Ho and Harassment

The rise of sexual harassment in the workplace

With working from home becoming more the norm since the COVID pandemic, It is easy to think that sexual harassment in the workplace would become less commonplace. Worryingly, the opposite is true. A survey undertaken by leading women’s charity Rights of Women revealed:

  • 45% of women experiencing sexual harassment, reporting experiencing the harassment remotely (remote sexual harassment refers to the following: sexual messages (eg emails, texts, social media); cyber harassment (eg via Zoom, Teams, Slack etc); and sexual calls
  • 42% of women who have experienced sexual harassment at work have experienced some to all of the harassment online
  • 23% of women who have experienced sexual harassment reported an increase or escalation whilst working from home since March 2020

Comments made by the survey’s respondents included the following:

“Having to let colleagues into my bedroom (via video meetings) means I feel my privacy has been invaded and nowhere is safe. The men now have more ammunition to mock me with.”

and

“The director of the company uses Zoom to take screenshots of myself and other women which he shares with colleagues making derogatory statements and implying the photos look like we’re doing sexual acts.”

Given these findings, it’s understandable that employers may have concerns about holding an online office Christmas party, when alcohol is added to the party atmosphere. So, what can organisations do to ensure that the fun doesn’t get out of hand?

Ten tips for your online office Christmas party

Employers have a responsibility to their workers, and in order to avoid the risk of employees causing harm to themselves or harassing others both during and after the function, it might be worth considering an alcohol-free activity. However, if you are allowing employees to drink alcohol during the online Christmas party, here are our ten top tips:

  1. Consider holding the party during the day
  2. Communicate a start and finish time for the party
  3. Suggest people use virtual or blurred backgrounds so that personal items remain private
  4. Ensure that people know that pre/post events are not approved by the company
  5. For smaller functions, have a designated moderator who is not drinking and is able to keep an eye on behaviour online. This person should have administrator functionality over the online platform used to host the party and the ability to mute and, if necessary, remove attendees from the session
  6. Move the focus from alcohol by nominating a Master of Ceremonies who is responsible for scheduling and running non-drinking activities to take place during the course of the party and organise for the delivery of food to the homes of attendees
  7. Confirm the address of where employees will be located when they participate in the online Christmas party, and ensure the moderator is provided with rapid access to these details should an emergency occur
  8. Also, be sure to remind all workers of the following:
    • The online party is an extension of the workplace, and inappropriate behaviour may lead to disciplinary action (including gross misconduct) being taken in the same way it would as if it took place during work hours
    • Company policies continue to apply to employees in the same way they would for any other work function – including the Social Media policy, to ensure that inappropriate photos, videos or comments are not taken, made and/or posted online during or after the party
  9. Ensure that your complaints policy and procedure deals with any complaints promptly and in the appropriate manner
  10. If exchanging Secret Santa gifts, consider using an online platform such as Elfster where guidelines can be posted and the organiser can see who gave to whom if necessary

If you’d like to speak to a member of the People Business team about help with company policies regarding harassment, social media, etc. please contact us on 01932 874944 or email us at info@peoplebusiness.co.uk