DECEMBER brings a number of events that mark the festive season in the workplace. One of the most eagerly-anticipated of these, alongside the Christmas party, is the Secret Santa, where names are drawn from a hat and each employee buys a gift for one of their colleagues – no details are disclosed and the whole process is meant to be shrouded in good-spirited, festive mystery.
However, whilst most office Secret Santa’s generally go without a hitch, one of Scotland’s leading independent employment law, HR and health and safety firms is warning of the potential pitfalls for employers.
Empire, which is headquartered in Aberdeen with offices in Glasgow, is offering its festive guide to making sure it is sleigh bells – and not alarm bells – which sound this Christmas.
Steve Cook is managing director at Empire: “Christmas is a time of year where there tends to be a lot of fun in the workplace, and the Secret Santa is a perfect example of this.
“Nonetheless, it is important for employers to bear in mind that what one employee considers ‘banter’, their colleague may find offensive. Therefore, it is vital that staff know what is not acceptable and ensure that boundaries are respected.”
We have all heard horror stories about risqué or inappropriate gifts – such as hair dye or deodorants – that have led to embarrassment or even offence. Therefore, Empire always recommends that employers take the time to clearly articulate what is acceptable before any Secret Santa draw is conducted. Mr Cook believes any guidance should cover all the bases:
“As well as addressing what is acceptable, it is also important that employers look at other factors, such as setting a price limit.
“If an employee spends a lot of money on someone and receives what is a low value gift in return, then this can result in potential resentment or tension that, if not managed correctly, could escalate. Setting a price limit can eliminate the possibility of this happening.”
Moreover, aside from the potential for offence and future tensions, Mr Cook says that the Secret Santa can also provide employers with larger headaches:
“What someone thinks is a tongue-in-cheek gift, such as fluffy handcuffs, underwear or nude calendars, could provide grounds for claims for sexual discrimination, whereas tobacco and even lottery tickets could be deemed as grounds for religious discrimination claims. It is down to an individual whether they find a gift offensive and therefore it is important that employers do what they can to limit their exposure to potentially costly lawsuits.”
Ultimately, Empire’s advice is to state clear guidelines for the Secret Santa as this is the best way to make sure that its only Rudolph’s nose, and not your employees or business, that are left bright red.
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