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Sexual harassment is a common side effect of holiday parties

Halloween is almost here. Some companies, including professional offices, service industry companies and even restaurants may have dress-up days and staff holiday parties. Even if Halloween doesn't warrant a party, chances are there's some kind of winter holiday celebration. It's always fun to get to interact with your co-workers in a less professional setting or in unusual or fun outfits. However, the break from routine can also present certain issues.

All too often, sexual harassment is an unfortunate result of holiday parties at businesses, and the events at the party can change a work environment from professional to hostile. Some people may view parties, especially those with alcohol, as an invitation to make inappropriate comments, unwanted advances or harassing jokes toward coworkers. Sometimes, this bad behavior persists for long after the actual holiday celebration. If someone finds your costume funny, for example, you may be hearing about it for month or longer.

Some people can't handle costumes or dressy events

Getting dressed up for a party is half the fun. Whether you came up with a clever costume for Halloween or can't wait to get dressed up formally for a holiday soiree, the outfit can be a large part of the fun. Sadly, it can also result in a shift in your relationship with coworkers or managers. Attempts at humor or friendly overtures may end up misinterpreted as flirting or inviting advances. Others may feel that dressing a certain way means you are less worthy of respect in the office.

None of that is true, of course. Dressing up to have fun and being friendly aren't invitations for sexual harassment. It can, and does happen. That doesn't mean you should skip the party or choose to dress only in the most conservative manner possible. It does mean that you should be quick to establish boundaries, especially if you suspect the other person involved has misinterpreted something or ingested too much alcohol. Make sure the other person and those around you know when you are not comfortable. Don't be afraid to speak up for yourself.

Sometimes, you need to involve human resources

Typically, businesses don't want to penalize staff members for what happens after hours. However, if something that happened at a staff party, such as turning down a proposition from a manager, is impacting your daily work or career, you need to address it. Many times, human resources can prevent a mild issue from becoming a serial problem. They may even have an existing policy on party-related harassment.

Just in case, you should make a record of the initial issues at the party, in detail, as well as your attempts to address it with human resources and management. If your attempts aren't taken seriously, you could end up trapped in a hostile work environment or subject to penalization due to reporting harassment.

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