Q. We have an annual off-site company party, with alcohol. We pay for half the hotel room cost if people want to stay over. An alleged harassment event occurred in a hotel room around 2 a.m. What is our potential liability? And do we have to investigate the complaint, since it occurred away from work and on a weekend? — Robin, Iowa
A. Employers can be held liable for harassment occurring away from the workplace if it’s related to work. This is true regardless of who paid for the hotel room, and even if the official work-related event had concluded. Although the fact that the conduct occurred after the event would be a mitigating factor in any assessment of liability.
In this case, since a harassment claim has been made, it is in your company’s interest to investigate the claim as fully as possible, and to respond to any behavior you believe violated the harassment policy. Your investigation may reveal that no policy violation occurred, or that both parties were at fault. Either way, you will have responded, which may, on its own, deter any escalation by those involved.
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