No, this article is not providing suggested ways to alleviate your morning headache from last night’s overdrinking. This article is about how to avoid the financial hangover you can have from misbehaving at a holiday gathering. The end of the year can be a time for workers to take pride over what they accomplished over the last year and enjoy relaxing with co-workers at holiday gatherings. It is important, however, to remember how you interact with co-workers at holidays gatherings could impact your work relationship. Some missteps could not only tarnish work relationships, but may cost you your job.
For example, we had a historical election this year and there are strong political opinions on both sides as to the incoming president. Answering questions as to your opinion is your choice, but to strongly criticize your co-worker because his presidential choice was not the same as your choice could make that co-worker uncomfortable working with you and thereby strain the working relationship and possibly, depending on how obnoxious your behavior is, might cost you your job. You do not have the freedom of speech from your private employer. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution prevents the government from taking certain actions that limit or hinder your speech, but does not prohibit your private employer from doing so, with a few statutory exceptions related to speech about the workplace. If you are telling your co-worker that he is a naïve imbecile for voting the way he did in the presidential election, you may find that even if your boss agrees with your presidential choice, he may take corrective action that could range from: requiring you to apologize to your co-worker; suspending you without pay; or letting you go. Your misbehavior towards your co-workers is not afforded additional protection because it is cloaked in political speech.
Also, just because you are in a social setting does not remove your obligation not to sexually harass your co-workers. Even if you are at a gathering at a pub that is not company sponsored, talking about co-workers body parts, expressing unwanted amorous intentions, or other boorish behavior could result in a financial hangover that following Monday morning when you are called down to the Human Resource Director’s Office for a sexual harassment investigation and possibly exit interview.
If at one of these social holiday gatherings there is an employee critical of the company or his/her boss, it would be prudent for the company to contact its employment counsel to see whether or not the statements to co-workers are considered “concerted activity” under the National Labor Relations Act. That Act, among other things, permits workers in either union or non-union shops to speak with each other about employment conditions of common interest. For example, co-workers complaining: they are getting paid less than those in competitive jobs; they are not getting overtime because the supervisor is giving the overtime hours to his girlfriend co-worker; that the work conditions are unsafe; or that the boss is unreasonable in his work expectations can all be considered concerted activity and protected speech under the National Labor Relations Act to the extent it is communications between co-workers.
In summary when at a holiday gathering with co-workers you should not become impaired by alcohol or other drugs and your conversations should remain cordial and professional.
J. Daniel Marr is a Director and Shareholder at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. His legal practice includes counseling businesses and individuals on a variety of legal issues and advocating on their behalf. Attorney Marr is licensed and practices in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Attorney Marr can be reached at [email protected].