Second-guessing the advice columns: Holiday party harasser

Well, that didn’t take long.

Hanukkah doesn’t end until sundown tonight, and it’s two weeks until Christmas. But Greg Giangrande of the “@work” column in the New York Post already has someone who made a big mistake at a workplace holiday party:

I’ve got a holiday-party casualty. A very high-performing employee who has never been accused of misconduct had too much to drink and pressed himself up against a colleague and tried to kiss her. She pushed him away and he backed off. It was out of character and he is remorseful, but I believe he has to be fired. However, other people say disciplinary action short of termination is justified. What say you?

Before I give you Greg’s answer — which I agree with — let me ask you. What would you do? The guy has never had an issue before, he backed off immediately when his colleague pushed him away, and it was “out of character” and he “is remorseful.” On the other hand, he pressed up against a woman he works with and tried to kiss her. Would you fire him?

Two things I would try not to take into account are (1) the fact that he is “a very high-performing employee” and (2) the fact that he’d had too much to drink.

But assuming the story is as presented, I’d probably give him a super-de-duper-special-deluxe final warning (meaning that any other false move — no matter when it occurs — will result in immediate termination). In addition to that, I’d consider banning him from future parties, or letting him come but only if he abstains from all mind-altering substances.

Here’s Greg’s answer, which I thought was good:

Oy! What happened to the “Greg, should I wear a tie on my job interview?” softball questions you guys generally throw at me? What you don’t address is how does the victim feel? What does she think is the appropriate remedy? Touching another employee inappropriately is crossing a line from which it’s almost impossible to recover, even if it is at a party at which alcohol was involved. Lots of people drink too much at holiday parties and wake up the next day with severe regret, but most manage to at worst make fools of themselves without attacking other people — and pressing your body up against someone and trying to kiss them is an attack. But if the pervasive sentiment is to not fire the individual, and the victim feels that way, too, then this employee better be worth the risk. At the very least, there should be severe consequences, such as suspension without pay, to send a clear message.

Greg had one last week about workplace holiday parties in general. (At the link, scroll down to the second letter.) He was responding to a reader who asked whether it was “a career-limiting move” to stay away from such parties:

On the contrary, it’s often a career-limiting move to attend. The combination of alcohol, food and music often makes otherwise sane, rational people lose their minds — or at least their perspective and good judgment. At company holiday parties, I’m like Chief Brody in “Jaws” walking the beach on the Fourth of July looking for any signs of danger in the waters. It’s not a social party with friends and it is definitely not the place to let your freak flag fly. It’s a work event full of career-limiting tripwires. Show up, smile, thank the organizer, shake hands with your boss, grab nothing more than a passed hors d’oeuvre, sip a seltzer and keep your job for another day. Have fun.

Wish I’d said that.

Remember: Dull is good. Have fun, but not too much fun. Happy holidays!


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.


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