Companies drop liquor at holiday parties amid sexual harassment saga, study says

  • Jason Lemon
  • For the AJC
9:44 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017 Business

As sexual harassment scandals remain at the forefront of the nation's collective conscious, many companies across the United States aim to cut down on any possibility of such occurrences at holiday parties by removing alcohol from the festivities.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based consulting firm, conducts an annual survey of American companies and their holiday party plans for employees. This year, the survey noted a dramatic 13 percent drop in companies planning to serve alcohol during their holiday festivities.

Just under 49 percent of the 150 companies included in the survey plan on serving alcohol this year, compared to 62 percent in 2016. Last year's percentage was the highest since the consulting firm began the survey a decade ago, while this year's survey is the first to record a dip in companies planning to serve alcohol.

"Employers are currently very wary of creating an environment where inappropriate contact between employees could occur," Andrew Challenger, vice president of the firm, said in a statement included with the findings.

"One way to create a safer environment is to limit the guest list, hold the party during the workday, and avoid serving alcohol," he added.

Challenger believes that companies have taken notice of the news reports regarding sexual harassment.

With high-profile sexual harassment allegations making headlines, from Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, to Alabama judge and politician Roy Moore, to actor Kevin Spacey and President Donald Trump, among a long list others, workplace sexual harassment has also been thrown into the spotlight.

In a 2015 survey of 2,235 full-time and part-time female employees, Cosmopolitan found that one in three women experienced sexual harassment at work during their lives. While many remain silent about harassment, fearing repercussions, recent media attention and high-profile cases have emboldened many women – and some men – to come forward with their own stories.

As a result, companies across the nation are taking extra precautions in the workplace and during their seasonal gatherings.

"[The company party] should boost morale and let workers know they are valued. It should not put anyone in an uncomfortable situation," Challenger said, explaining that human resources departments definitely don't want the holiday season to be "marred by a disturbing workplace party experience."

Although recent allegations of sexual harassment may increase companies' concerns, steps to avoid uncomfortable and inappropriate situations have been encouraged for years. For instance, the National Federation of Independent Businesses has recommended for several years that companies stop hanging mistletoe at holiday parties, according to TIME.

Some companies have decided against having open bars, offering limited drink tickets to employees instead. Many also specifically ask bar tenders, security guards or designated employees to keep an eye on how much individuals are drinking and monitor their behavior towards others.

While these steps help create a safer environment, employees should also be more aware and monitor their own behavior as well. A recent study conducted by Data marketer Brionna Lewis with auto company Instamotor found that many men aren't really clear on what constitutes sexual harassment.

One in three respondents said they don't think catcalling is sexual harassment, and two in three respondents said they don't think repeated unwanted invitations to dinner, drinks or dates is sexual harassment. At the same time, 45 percent of the men said they've witnessed someone being sexually harassed, with 50 percent of respondents reporting such incidents occurred at work or at a party/bar/nightclub.

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