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to Say at the Office Holiday Party

The festive month of Decem-

ber is rapidly approaching—a

time to celebrate the holidays,

the year’s accomplishments

and the start of 2017. Holi-

day parties bring colleagues

together for camaraderie,

merriment, food and drinks.

It is the latter action, drinking,

that can often get employees

into trouble.

While enjoying alcoholic

beverages or the relaxed

atmosphere of an office

party, employees may make

comments that they believe

are innocent, funny or light-

hearted, but are received and

internalized very differently.

For example, a person

may express to a female col-

league,“I like your dress! You

should wear dresses more

often and show off those leg

muscles.”Or a co-worker may

quip,“You may not want that

second round of pasta—look

at your gut!” Employees may

notice two colleagues “hitting

it off” at a party and start to

speculate on their relationship

outside the office,“Keep your

pants on tonight!”

Parties with drinks flowing

also tend to bring out more

overt physical displays of

affection amongst employees,

with colleagues hugging each

other, throwing their arms

around one another, patting,

kissing and other forms of

physical friendliness.

These employees may

believe that their comments

and actions are harmless,

made in the context of a jovial

party environment. However,

an individual on the receiving

side of such comments and

actions may feel offended,

embarrassed or harassed.

While often such state-

ments or gestures are made

innocently enough (and may

even have been made during a

workday), the person receiv-

ing the comment or contact

may not welcome them.

He or she may be embar-

rassed by a remark about

their physical appearance or

be uncomfortable with exces-

sive touching and hugging.

These feelings of humilia-

tion and harassment may be

amplified if the person making

the comment or gesture is a

supervisor or senior official.

Employees can be disci-

plined for actions and com-

ments made both during and

outside working hours

, which

makes it more important to

be mindful of comments you

might make at holiday parties

and “off-duty” events like the

Marine Ball or a gathering

organized by a colleague.

It is also worth considering

that a well-intended remark or

squeeze of the shoulder may

be considered inappropriate,

or even harassment, by locally

employed staff who interpret

these actions through their

own cultural lens.

The department’s sexual

harassment and discrimina-

tory harassment policies are

contained in 3 FAM 1520

. The

Foreign Affairs Manual provi-

sion specifically states that

the department is committed

to a workplace that is free

from sexual and discrimina-

tory harassment. Although

innocently made, the

examples above fall into the

category of sexual or discrimi-

natory harassment.

Anyone in the department

can report harassment to the

Office of Civil Rights, and the

department is obligated under

the FAM to investigate all such

claims. Furthermore, the FAM

mandates that anyone in a

supervisory position must

report any harassment that

they have witnessed or been

advised about to OCR.

Once OCR is alerted to

a claim of harassment, the

office will conduct an inves-

tigation, which includes

obtaining statements from

the employees involved and


OCR then prepares a

Report of Investigation, which

is forwarded to the Bureau of

Human Resources, Office of

Employee Relations–Conduct,

Suitability and Discipline and

to the Diplomatic Security

Office of Personnel Security

and Suitability for review and

action, if required.

The department takes

investigations and allegations

of harassment very seriously.

AFSA attorneys have seen a

significant rise in disciplinary

action stemming fromOCR

investigations of harassment.

The penalty for inappropriate

comments, poor judgment

and/or improper personal

conduct can range from a

Letter of Admonishment to

suspension without pay.

Disciplinary action can

have serious consequences

for your opportunity for

tenure or promotion. A

discipline letter remains in

your performance file for one

board review if you receive a

letter of reprimand, two board

reviews if you are proposed for

a one- to-five day suspension;

and the letter will stay in your

performance file until you are

next promoted if you receive a

six-day suspension or more.

Employees deserve to kick

back with colleagues and

enjoy the holiday season. Just

be aware that a comment

or action you make, while

well-intentioned, innocent or

meant to be humorous, may

be received in the opposite

manner and could be per-

ceived (and reported) as


If you have any questions,

please review our website

on EEO investigations www.

guidance. If you are contacted

by OCR about a harassment

investigation, we recommend

that you contact the AFSA Labor Management team f


advice or assistance.


—Neera Parikh,

AFSA Senior Staff Attorney

AFSA Senior Staff Attorney

Neera Parikh.