(949) 344-2333 info@iaml.com

Did I do that?

Happy new year, everybody!

Greg Giangrande of the New York Post‘s @Work column answered a letter this week from a guy whose behavior at his workplace holiday party was “a blur.”

That can’t be good.

Ever since the party, his co-workers and bosses had been acting weird around him.The letter writer wondered whether it was time to start looking for another job.

Greg suggested that the letter writer might be able to save his job and career, but he’d have to keep his nose clean for a long time to overcome whatever it was he did at the party that caused him to blur out and his co-workers to treat him gingerly.

As usual, I agree with Greg’s advice. And he gave me the idea to provide you (or your employees) with some questions to ask yourself (or themselves) after “problematic” behavior at your (or their) workplace parties.

Like hurricanes, workplace party behavior falls into categories. Some behavior is almost certain to get you called into Human Resources, if not fired. Other behavior, although not termination-worthy, is what they call a “career-limiting gesture.” Still other behavior may cause you to be the subject of gossip for a while, but that may be about it. And, of course, some behavior is wonderful and may get you a promotion, but we don’t need to talk about that. (Lawyers prefer to focus on the negative.)

So, if you’re wondering how badly you blew it in December, here’s how to find out:

Before you start

Do I remember what I did?

If so, go on to the next questions. If not, try to find a trustworthy co-worker who was there and ask her to tell you what you did. Then go on to the next questions.

Category Four: Termination imminent

Did I make a pass at anybody other than my spouse or significant other?

Did I make jokes or comments of a sexual or racial nature?

Did I get in a fight?

Did I threaten to kick anybody’s a**?

Did I engage in vandalism or cruel practical jokes?

Did I tell my boss exactly what I really think of him? (If you like your boss, you can skip this one.)

Did I get arrested?

Did I pontificate obnoxiously about highly sensitive political topics (women in the workplace, LGBT rights, affirmative action, immigration)?

SOLUTION TO CATEGORY 4: When called into Human Resources, grovel and accept all blame. Profusely apologize to all co-workers who were exposed to your offensive behavior, especially if they were the direct recipients of it. (But if it’s a harassment victim, don’t directly apologize unless HR says you can.) Even if you get fired anyway, these actions might qualify you for a separation agreement and a neutral reference. Or not. 

Category Three: Calibrate your career expectations

Did I pass out?

Did I throw up?

Did I make an embarrassing body noise?

Did my boss have to force me, upon penalty of termination of employment, to take an Uber home?

Did I get into an argument with anybody?

Did I break or spill anything?

If a spill, did I spill it on somebody other than myself?

Did I bore my boss to death with my extensive monologue about how to solve all of the problems in our company, the nation, and the world?

SOLUTION TO CATEGORY 3: The good news is that you are unlikely to be called into HR for any of these things. The bad news is that you may have disqualified yourself from any further career advancement. Apologize to anyone you grossed out or bored to death, and vow that you will never consume alcohol at a workplace party ever again. Offer to pay (and then actually pay) for any property damage you inadvertently caused. Hope for short memories and high turnover. You may survive.

Category Two: Not ideal, but you can probably get away with it 

Did I get woozy?

Did I laugh too loud? Did I accidentally snort when I laughed?

Did I slur my speech?

Did I have to call myself an Uber to get home safely?

Was my embarrassing body noise no worse than a hiccup or a burp?

Did I make a pass at my own spouse or significant other?

Did I play a harmless prank?

Did I spill something on myself?

Did I have to grab someone’s arm to avoid falling down while I was on my way out the door?

SOLUTION TO CATEGORY 2: With Category 2, you have a lot of discretion. You can joke about it afterward, or you can ignore it and assume you were no more impaired than anyone else. Or you can reminisce with your co-workers about what a GREAT PARTY it was.

Category X: Super-safe behavior. (Or is it?)

Was I a stick-in-the-mud who was no fun at all?

SOLUTION TO CATEGORY X: This is why so many people are coming to dislike workplace parties. Employees can’t win. If they revel too much, they’re obviously asking for trouble. But they can also create a bad impression if they’re perceived as no fun at all. If you sense that you may have been a wet blanket, you might want to mention on Monday that you are usually a lot more fun but had to behave on the night of the party because — wouldn’t you know it! — you had surgery scheduled for the next morning. And you were the surgeon.

Robin Shea is a Partner with the law firm of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP and has more than 20 years’ experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act), the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act; and class and collective actions under the Fair Labor Standards Act and state wage-hour laws; defense of audits by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs; and labor relations. She conducts training for human resources professionals, management, and employees on a wide variety of topics.