Just one day into the filming of season four of the reality TV series Bachelor in Paradise, production came to a grinding, screeching halt. The reason? There was an alcohol-fueled sexual encounter involving two contestants: Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson. The allegation is that Corinne was too drunk to consent and the producers should have stepped in to stop a sexual encounter. They didn’t.
The Criminal Code of Canada is being updated to clarify and toughen up the meaning of sexual consent. Specifically, despite a recent controversial court ruling that is under appeal, someone who is unconscious or so drunk that they are not aware of what is going on cannot give consent. Other jurisdictions are likely to follow.
No one other than the producers who are in possession of the video footage knew for sure what happened on the Bachelor in Paradise set. After a two-week investigation, Warner Bros. announced that the raw footage had revealed that no sexual assault had taken place that night. This did not undo the fact that, The Bachelor brand has been tarnished and the future success of Bachelor in Paradise remains uncertain. Could the same thing happen to your brand?
During a corporate event, especially when a corporate group is in a stunning foreign setting, alcohol may flow freely and as everyone is having fun and in a lighter mood…and it’s easy for employees to forget about their personal safety. It is also easy for companies to forget about Duty of Care.
Employers have a duty of care to their employees, which means that they should take all possible steps to ensure their health, safety and wellbeing.
Unlike a TV series, in a corporate environment, there is usually no video footage to shed a light on what took place. There have been enough U.S. sexual harassment lawsuits that have resulted in multimillion-dollar awards to establish the fact that there can be liability for the organization when situations go awry. Recently, Uber executives were forced to resign as a result of a dysfunctional corporate culture that included alcohol abuse and sexual harassment. Wired magazine’s article about the “alcohol soaked” cultures in many tech firms which shared the results of a Cornell University study, concluded that there is a: “…close connection between permissive workplace drinking cultures and sexual harassment. And while blaming sexual assault on alcohol would be a mistake, many incidents involve people who have been drinking. In short, heavy drinking at work or conferences makes employees—especially women—less safe.”
There are no easy or clear-cut solutions or easy answers, but the following steps help reduce risks to employers and ensure employee safety during corporate events and overseas trips. Corporate event planners and their clients would be well advised to give serious consideration to these 10 tips for preventing alchohol abuse and sexual misconduct at company functions.
1. Set and communicate clear and specific policies about alcohol consumption and appropriate behavior for corporate events.
It is best to include this in a documented code of conduct and have all employees sign it when they are hired (or when the code is introduced/amended).
2. Pinpoint which misconduct warrants disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
As a guideline, misconduct that violates the criminal code or jeopardizes the safety of employees should be included. Also include behavior that could bring disrepute or negative publicity to the organization.
3. Remind individuals that they have a responsibility to monitor their own alcohol consumption and behavior and avoid situations that could put them in danger.
Examples: Avoid sexual encounters with co-workers and individuals who you have just met if you are even slightly tipsy. Don’t go off the beaten track on your own, especially if you have been drinking.
4. Establish a zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct.
DeMario Jackson’s employer fired him immediately.
5. Ensure that all members of the senior management team lead by example.
6. Limit alcohol consumption.
Consider wristbands as an alternative to an open bar or drink tickets. (Drink tickets can be passed on by employees who don’t consume alcohol.)
7. Provide a wide assortment of non-alcoholic beverages.
8. Always have certified bartenders to monitor the situation for hospitality suites and villas.
I repeat always.
9. Designate at least one senior manager to refrain from consuming alcohol, monitor the situation and intervene if things get out of hand.
Hotel security can be called upon to escort individuals who are rowdy or disorderly back to their rooms. For events “at home,” transportation can be arranged to ensure that employees get home safely or a hotel room should be provided for them to sleep it off.
10. Turn off the tap at least an hour before an event is scheduled to end.
This will reduce the likelihood that individuals will leave events in a vulnerable state.
Sex when mixed with alcohol can be a volatile cocktail with serious fall-out for employers and employees. Caution must be exercised by all parties.