Sexual Harassment During a Company Dinner or Happy Hour

company happy hour

Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal. But what if the harassment occurs after hours at a company dinner or happy hour? Can your employer be held liable? If you have experienced sexual harassment outside of work, turn to Castronovo & McKinney, LLC.

As a leading New Jersey employment law firm, we have extensive experience handling sexual harassment claims, including complex cases involving harassment at company-sponsored dinners, happy hours, and other events. Whether the offensive conduct occurred onsite or at a bar or restaurant, you have powerful legal recourse. 

By working with our experienced sexual harassment lawyer, you can protect your rights, stop the harassment, and recover just compensation. Call us today for a free consultation. 

About Sexual Harassment in New Jersey

The first thing to know is that sexual harassment is considered an unlawful form of sex-based discrimination under federal and state law, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). Generally, there are two forms of sexual harassment – quid pro quo and hostile work environment:

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when: 

  1. A supervisor or a person in a position of authority makes sexual demands in exchange for an employment benefit (e.g raise, promotion) or
  2. An employee is subjected to an adverse employment action for refusing a sexual advance

Suppose your boss makes a sexual advance during a company dinner. This could be considered quid pro quo harassment for which your employer may be liable, regardless of whether they knew or should have known about the offensive conduct.

A hostile work environment occurs when someone is subjected to offensive comments, conduct, or displays by anyone, including a supervisor, coworker, or a third party, such as a service provider. For example, an employee who is subjected to lewd comments or unlawful touching by a coworker may have a valid hostile work environment claim.

While this seems straightforward, proving sexual harassment at a company dinner or happy hour can be challenging, especially if no one witnessed the harassment. The best way to protect your rights and fight back is to work with an experienced New Jersey sexual harassment attorney. 

When Sexual Harassment Occurs at a Company Dinner or Happy Hour

An employee who takes part in sexual harassment outside of the workplace can and should face disciplinary action. Moreover, an employer can be held liable because federal and state laws prohibit sexual harassment at company-sponsored events. Examples of sexual harassment at company dinners and happy hours include:

  • Offensive jokes and sexist comments
  • Unwanted sexual advances 
  • Unlawful touching
  • Asking a coworker about their sexual preferences
  • Games requiring employees to physically touch
  • Giving sexually suggestive or romantic gifts

While a single offensive remark at a happy hour may not qualify as harassment, such a remark could support a hostile work environment claim if it is part of a pattern of harassment that began in the workplace and continues outside of work. 

Why Company-Sponsored Events Lead to Sexual Harassment

Employer-sponsored dinners and happy hours often take place offsite, placing employees in social settings in which their conduct may become less inhibited, especially if alcohol is thrown into the mix. While such events can encourage camaraderie and relationship-building, they can also create situations that lead to a hostile work environment. 

If offensive conduct or comments occur at a work-sponsored event, such as dinner, happy hour, or holiday party, the courts will likely consider it in a sexual harassment claim. In addition, incidents at events in bars and restaurants at the company’s invitation fall under the banner of workplace harassment. 

Ultimately, an employer may be vicariously liable for offensive conduct by a non-supervisory employee that occurs outside of work if the employer knew or should have known about the harassment. Also, an employer may be held strictly liable for harassment by a supervisor at a company dinner or happy hour. 

Do I Have a Valid Claim For Sexual Harassment During a Company Dinner/Happy Hour?

If you have experienced sexual harassment at a company dinner or happy hour, you need the informed representation our firm provides. You can depend on our sexual harassment lawyers to handle all the details of your claim. We will conduct a thorough investigation, identify and interview witnesses, and explore all your legal options. While many workplace harassment claims settle through negotiations, we will take your case to trial, if necessary, to protect your rights and get you just compensation. 

Talk To An Experienced New Jersey Sexual Harassment Lawyer

If you have experienced sexual harassment at a company dinner or happy hour in New Jersey, don’t suffer in silence. Contact our office today so we can start working on your claim.