Employees may spend time together outside of work. In many instances, what employees do off the job is of no concern to the employer. However, when workers engage in harassment or discrimination, even while off-the-clock, employees and employers may face consequences and should know what they each can do to protect themselves.
What employers can do
Employers can run into issues when trying to manage or control their employees’ personal lives and relationships outside of the workplace. However, employers can address off-duty misconduct in order to protect employees without violating their rights and privacy.
One simple way to accomplish this is to specify that existing anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies cover behaviors both at work and off-duty and off-premises. Such policies should cover misconduct such as:
- Making unwelcome sexual advances
- Treating workers unfairly based on protected characteristics
- Quid pro quo harassment
- Interfering with employees’ exercise of protected activities
These actions are already unlawful in the workplace. However, employers can specify that their policies regarding workplace conduct extend to the manner in which employees interact with each other while they are:
- On leave
- Socializing outside of work
- On a work trip
- Communicating with each other online
The policies can state that harassment and discrimination in these situations can result in employment-related penalties. More broadly, employers may communicate that they will discipline workers who engage in any actions that harm the business or damage its reputation.
What employees can do
Any worker who experiences mistreatment by co-workers or supervisors off the clock should take these situations seriously. They can report the situation to their manager, Human Resources, or other people in control of the company, notifying them of the offending party’s misconduct.
If an employer does not take any action to investigate these claims or reprimand the perpetrator, the employee may wish to speak with an attorney to address any off-duty mistreatment.
Understanding the laws and protections
The line between protecting workers off the clock and infringing on their rights can be quite thin. Any employer or employee with questions about harassment or discrimination outside of the workplace should speak with an experienced employment attorney to better understand their rights and options.