Office Christmas party
The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from harassment at work-related social events. Photograph: David De Lossy/Getty Images

Cornered by lecherous co-workers with wandering hands. Told loudly by a senior colleague that you’re too “hot” to be part of the technical team. Proclaimed winner of the “best arse” award. Asked “Shall we just shag?” four times, despite the advances clearly being unwelcome. Offered a colleague a lift home only to be sexually assaulted in the back of a taxi.

Alongside the obvious connections, these experiences have one thing in common that might surprise you. They all happened to women attending work Christmasparties.

Around this time of year, the Everyday Sexism Project sees an upsetting spike in stories from working women who have experienced sexism, harassment and even assault at annual company festivities. The stories are varied and complex. In some cases, women are excluded from the party altogether, missing out on networking opportunities, and sidelined from the team:

I’m a female working in the construction industry. Currently, I and one other female work here, and neither of us are invited to the Christmas party. I’ve worked here for four years and I’ve never been invited (in my first year I was invited and then uninvited because it might be ‘awkward’). We’ve kicked up a bit a fuss this year, but my boss will not let us come because ‘it has been this way for years’.”

Many examples (such as being sexually propositioned by married colleagues) assume an atmosphere of conspiratorial “naughtiness” at such events. Some reports amount to sexual assault:

My boss’s boss, a married man, made several attempts to molest me at a Christmas party, including grabbing my breasts, pulling me towards him, slapping my bottom and trying to force unwanted kisses on me. Exasperated, I eventually told him to ‘fuck off’, then spent an anxious weekend worrying that I would lose my job. Fortunately, I didn’t, but he continued pestering me. Everyone thought it was funny and that I should be flattered.”

Others demonstrate how a culture of complicity and normalisation can prevent perpetrators from facing any ramifications:

One of the men in my office chased one of the women into a room at the Christmas party and wouldn’t let her leave until she kissed him. Everyone knows he did it. He’s still considered a ‘nice guy’.”

The common responses – “Why didn’t she kick up a fuss?” and “I’d have kicked him where it hurts” – are understandable, but they completely fail to take in to account the power dynamic inherent in many such cases.

While some argue that this is “no big deal”, the long-term impact is often much greater than one might realise:

While working for a law firm and attending the Christmas party, one of the male partners told me that my dress was pretty, but would look better crumpled on his bedroom floor. He kept asking to walk me home, even though he was married and I was living with my boyfriend at the time. I felt quite frightened of him and left the party swiftly when he wasn’t looking so I could get home without the fear of being pursued. I complained to my boss who, of course, had a word with him, but he continued to make my working life intolerable, so I left.”

For many women who experience a surge of workplace harassment in environments such as restaurants and bars (‘I’m dressed as Santa, sit on my lap’; ‘Have you been naughty or nice?’; ‘Give us a Christmas kiss’), there isn’t necessarily an HR department to notify, nor a means of complaining without jeopardising what might already be an uncontracted and low-paid position. For those dependent on tips, with the directive to keep customers happy, handling harassment becomes even more difficult.

For those who feel able to protest and might be strengthened by factual ammunition, it’s important to know that the Equality Act 2010 protects people from harassment by their employer and their colleagues. This includes unwanted or unwelcome behaviour that violates their dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive atmosphere. And yes, this applies to work-related social events such as office Christmas parties. If you feel able to do so, you have every right to complain – and your employer should take the problem seriously.

But the only way to solve this problem for all workers, not just those who are in a strong enough position to protest, is to demand that workplaces tackle the issue at the source. This is not as difficult as some make out. If we expect employers to protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace, they should maintain the same basic standards at festive events – indeed, according to the law, they must.

Many elements of the problem (inviting only male employees; holding the party in a strip club; giving out inappropriate rewards) are within the organisers’ control. Others, such as inappropriate behaviour, should be tackled with clear zero-tolerance policies and transparent, protected reporting procedures.

It’s a red herring to suggest, as many people do, that cracking down on sexual harassment will create an awkward atmosphere or take the fun out of the office Christmas party. Being the target of sexist jokes or groping on the dancefloor is what prevents many employees from having fun in the first place.

[Source:- the gurdian]

By Adam