All I want for Christmas is a discrimination free Christmas party!
December 3, 2019
Businesses across Jersey will be preparing themselves for the forthcoming festivities. Rightly or wrongly “Secret Santa” has become a stalwart of office celebrations. Gifts are likely to be exchanged at or before the office Christmas party.
The majority of employers do not have a policy in place to advise what is and more importantly what is not appropriate as part of the gift giving experience. This lack of guidance could potentially result in disciplinary consequences for employees and, more concerning, shared liability for employers.
The danger in relation to Secret Santa arises when an inappropriate gift is received and the receiver does not share the joke. Making the BCR Law naughty list this year (in no particular order) the worst offending gifts are:-
products of a sexual nature
Phallic themed chocolate
Female sanitary products
This year BCR Law will be continuing with our Secret Santa fun and our view is Secret Santa should not be banned in offices. However, we will be asking our staff to consider their gifts carefully and keep in mind not everyone will share their sense of humour.
The danger area is gifts which are discriminatory in relation to a protected characteristic. In Jersey these are:-
Pregnancy and maternity
In the majority of cases the employee who purchased the “gift” is not acting malevolently. However, on occasion boundaries will still be pushed and the employer will find themselves paying out more than the £10 gift maximum. We would also note that a problematic gift does not have to infringe upon a protected characteristic to cause relationship issues between staff. For example the gift of a toothbrush or deodorant could still lead to challenging relationships in the office.
Interestingly no gift can be just as dangerous. What happens where an employee is left with no present through forgetfulness or an unwillingness to take part? Also consider the pressure on employees who may be on an already stretched budget at this time of year.
We have focused on the negatives of Secret Santa, there are without doubt benefits in retaining Secret Santa in the office. If done appropriately it represents a great team building exercise and can allow colleagues to interact with people in their organisation they may have no other opportunity to deal with on a day to day basis. It can forge or cement friendships within the organisation.
Our advice to ensure Christmas merriment and minimise the risks is employers introduce clear guidance to the entire business including rules such as:
Everyone should be invited to participate
A clear maximum amount to be spent on each gift be agreed
It should be clear participation is optional. Silence should not be taken as an individual’s consent to be involved
A reminder that all gifts should be work place appropriate. If you have any doubts about a gift being appropriate, don’t get it!
Issue guidance to staff, this does not need to be extensive and could be a short email. It is also advisable to remind your employees about your polices in relation to bullying and harassment, discrimination and dignity at work
If you adopt a policy in relation to Secret Santa it can also be used in relation to leaving gifts or birthday presents