Ah, Saint Patrick’s Day: a time for some of us to observe our religious faiths, others to celebrate our Irish heritage, and the rest to either consume questionable green substances to excess or stay far away from the people who do.
In the past couple decades, many Americans have embraced a version of St. Paddy’s that could be more accurately called “St. Irish Stereotypes Day” or “St. Hangover’s Eve” or “What If Everywhere Was Boston and the Red Sox Just Won the World Series Day.” For whatever reason, March 17th has become synonymous with alcohol and drinking—particularly overpriced, green-dyed alcohol and aggressive binge drinking.
While we won’t tell you how to enjoy your St. Paddy’s celebration this year, this is a workforce compliance blog, and it’s our job to at least warn you that workplaces and hard drinking don’t mix. Alcohol lowers a person’s inhibitions, which may help before doing karaoke or giving a speech at your best friend’s wedding, but increases the chances of an incident of harassment at work.
That means that when booze is in the picture, supervisors, managers, and anyone else in charge of an organization’s anti-harassment needs to be aware of and address the attendant risk and to set the right tone for the rest of the team. To quote attorney Steve Roppolo, who recently co-presented Compli’s Anti-Harassment Initiative Best Practices webinar, if you’re a manager, “you are always a leader—you are not really ever off-duty.”
Here’s what Steve told our audience:
Managers who have some responsibility over the employees they’re working with have to remember that harassment of an employee can occur outside the workplace, through text messages and social media, for instance.
This is particularly true for after-hours events. I often hear it in the context of “well, we just went to have a few drinks after work.” I had a case not long ago where the few drinks after work turned into “well, we’re going to have shots for somebody because it’s their birthday.” And then: “oh, well, somebody just sold a big deal, so we’re going to have another round of tequila shots.” And next thing you know, there are some encounters in the parking lot, and then this all bleeds over into the next day.
Socialize with friends away from work. If you’re going to do something that is an after-hours event involving employees, make sure that the alcohol is limited. Don’t let shots happen. Shots didn’t help me in college—they certainly wouldn’t help me now. And they’re not necessary in a normal work environment, even in an after-work event.
Leaders should model good behavior. Even if you are at such an event and you begin to see that kind of behavior go on, the best idea is to demonstrate proper conduct: to tell someone, “look, just get a beer,” or to try to discourage that kind of behavior because it gets out of control, and then you’re in a circumstance in which you’re scrambling to make sure that no one’s feelings are hurt or there are misunderstood actions and so forth.
Also remember that in this age of social media, people chit-chat about one another and say snarky things. Don’t do that about fellow employees. If you do, you run the risk of steamrolling into a completely new and heightened kind of harassment situation. That’s what we mean when we say “set the right tone”: If employees see you being inclusive and making sure everybody’s involved, they’ll be less likely to cross the line and be non-inclusive themselves.