Even managers who have undergone extensive training regarding what kind of behavior is and isn’t acceptable may not realize that employers can be held liable if one employee harasses another outside the workplace, even in a non-work-related setting, and they do nothing about it.
A common example is when colleagues get together for Happy Hour after work or when attending a conference. Alcohol and a more relaxed atmosphere can cause some people to behave inappropriately. If someone makes an unwanted advance or refuses to leave you alone, you have the right to report it, and your employer has a responsibility to deal with the matter – just as they would if it happened in the office.
Employees need to know the rules
Employers can’t be expected to regulate how their employees behave when they’re on their own time and away from the workplace. However, they can and need to ensure that they understand that they can be held accountable for how they treat each other – regardless of where they are.
Further, once a case of alleged harassment is reported to them, they cannot ignore it or make excuses for the accused employee (“Well, he just had a few too many. He’s a good guy.”). They must investigate the matter and take disciplinary action if warranted.
Hostile work environment
Why does it matter how colleagues treat each other outside of work? Unlike the premise of the TV show Severance, we’re not implanted with chips that allow us to completely forget about our personal lives when we’re at work and vice versa.
If a colleague has behaved inappropriately when you encountered them outside of work, it can leave you feeling uneasy and even unsafe at work. You may go out of your way to avoid them – if that’s even possible. It can affect your performance as well as what opportunities you choose to pursue. You may turn down the chance to work on a high-profile project because it would mean interacting with your harasser.
If you’ve reported the harassment to your employer – regardless of where or when it occurred – and they’ve failed to act on the matter, it may be wise to seek legal guidance. This can help you protect your rights and your job.