Sexual Assault at Holiday Work Parties

Sexual Assault at Holiday Work PartiesGeorgia employers and employees must be aware of the risks of sexual harassment at company holiday parties, especially when those events also involve the availability of alcoholic beverages. Sexual assault, however, is an entirely different issue.

If you were sexually assaulted at a work event like a holiday party, you have legal options. Contact Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP to learn more.

Why sexual assault may be more likely at employee holiday parties

Sexual assault involves any unwanted sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit and voluntary consent of all parties involved. The consent must be clear, willing, and ongoing; without it, the sexual activity is considered a violation.

Most folks would never dream of groping a coworker at the office, but at the annual holiday party – especially one held offsite – things can change quickly. At parties where your coworkers are imbibing alcohol (or using other substances), they may become more “touchy-feely” than they normally would in your workplace. You may find yourself subjected to leering and harassment, or inappropriate touching.

In some cases, however, predators will take advantage of inebriated coworkers. Using pressure, threats, or manipulation to force someone into engaging in sexual activity against their will is also  sexual assault.

If an act begins as consensual but later becomes non-consensual due to a withdrawal of consent, coercion, or other factors, it may be considered sexual assault. Consent must be continuous and voluntary throughout any sexual activity, and individuals have the right to revoke consent at any time.

Here are some behaviors that may be considered sexual assault at a holiday work party:

  • Unwanted touching, such as groping or fondling
  • Touching someone inappropriately while dancing and using it as an excuse
  • Forced kissing in any capacity
  • Touching another person who is asleep or too intoxicated to object OR consent
  • Continuing to engage in sexual activity after the other person has passed out or fallen asleep
  • Rape or attempted rape

Sexual assault in a Georgia workplace

Under Georgia law, sexual assault is included under the broader category of sexual offenses that encompass non-consensual sexual acts. In the workplace setting, sexual assault applies to conduct occurring in or otherwise affecting the workplace and includes conduct occurring both on and off the work premises and during or outside of work hours.

According to Georgia’s Statewide Sexual Harassment Prevention Policy, some examples of prohibited conduct include:

  • Denying (directly or indirectly) an employment benefit or employment-related opportunity to an employee for refusing to comply with a sexually oriented request
  • Threatening (directly or indirectly) to deny an employment benefit or an employment-related opportunity to an employee for refusing to comply with a sexually oriented request
  • Providing or promising (directly or indirectly) to provide an employment benefit or employment-related opportunity to an employee in exchange for complying with a sexually oriented request
  • Undertaking in sexually explicit or suggestive physical contact, including touching an employee in a way that is unwelcome or restricting an employee’s movement

Under O.C.G.A. §16-5-5.1(b), sexual assault in Georgia occurs when a person who has supervisory or disciplinary authority over another individual engages in sexual contact with them, and consent is not considered a defense. While the statute does not specifically address workplace supervisors, such conduct by a supervisor is tortious and a violation of civil law. Thus, if a supervisor engages in unwelcome sexual contact with an employee at a holiday party, this would likely constitute sexual assault in Georgia.

What should I do if I was sexually assaulted at a work party in Georgia?

if you have experienced sexual assault at a holiday work party in Georgia, here are some general steps you might consider taking:

  • Seek medical attention: Call 9-1-1 if necessary; your health and safety come first. It’s crucial to seek medical attention as soon as possible, even if you don’t have visible injuries. Medical professionals can assess your well-being, address injuries, and collect evidence that may be valuable should you decide to pursue legal action.
  • Preserve evidence: Avoid showering, changing clothes, or washing as clothing and other items may contain forensic evidence that could be useful in an investigation.
  • Contact law enforcement: Report the incident to the police. If you are unsure about reporting, consider reaching out to a local sexual assault crisis center for guidance.
  • Document the incident: Write down a detailed account of the incident, including the date, time, location, and any relevant details.
  • Speak with a counselor or advocate: Reach out to a counselor or sexual assault advocate for emotional support and guidance throughout the process. The Grady Rape Crisis Center is located in Atlanta.
  • Inform your supervisor or HR department: Report the incident to your supervisor or the HR department at your workplace. Your company should have policies to address such situations, and should take steps to investigate and address the matter.
  • Explore support services: Connect with local organizations counseling, legal assistance, and resources to help you navigate the aftermath of the assault.
  • Get legal advice: Consult with an Atlanta-based lawyer from Buckley Bala Wilson Mew in sexual assault or employment law for guidance on whether to pursue legal action against the perpetrator or the employer.

Sexual assault is a violation of your civil rights. Whether the assault happens at work, school, in a hospital or in a church setting, or at a work holiday party, those who commit and allow sexual assaults must be held accountable. If you were a victim of sexual assault anywhere in Georgia, call Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP or fill out our contact form to schedule an initial consultation today.