How much fun is an office party?
I thought I would browse the internet to see what lawyers in other countries advised employers about Christmas office parties, writes Mary-Jane Thomas in Work to Rule.
Pinsent Masons are an international legal firm operating out of Europe, Asia and the Gulf. Their guide started with the following introduction:
"Office parties can be a great boost for morale but employers should be aware of potential risks such as sexual harassment, alcohol-fuelled brawls, religious discrimination and post-party absenteeism."
They promise to give a practical guide that will ensure a trouble-free office party. I think what they meant to say was the party will be mindnumbingly boring but at least you won't get sued.
Apparently you are not to insist that all staff attend the office Christmas party for the reason that if the event is out of hours some people have family responsibilities that may prevent them from coming. I have never been at an organisation that had a requirement that you attend the office Christmas party. Indeed in my experience those that did not want to attend were better to be encouraged not to come because they ruin it for everyone else.
It's like kids and whitebait. If they don't really really like whitebait it's wasted on them and they shouldn't eat it and it should be given to the adults who do like it.
Christmas party invitations should read: "Please do not come unless you really really, really want to. That means that if you don't come there will be more food and drink for the rest of us and we won't get your grumpy face ruining the festive spirit."
Decorating the office
Pinsent Masons say: "It is a common misconception that Christmas decorations breach health and safety rules."
I had never ever thought of this. I have threatened to fire people if they put tinsel in my room but I have never thought it necessary to consider whether decorations are a health risk. Apparently, according to the website, "your insurance may not cover damage caused by untested electrical equipment so make sure you switch off tree lights before going home" - really?
The biggest problem we have had at work regarding decorations is an ongoing feud (me against everyone else in the office) as to whether our Christmas tree should be completely over the top (I think the more tinsel and decorations on the tree the better) or minimalist and tasteful. I have won out the past few years through explaining to the summer clerks who are responsible for decorating the tree that if they wanted a reference from me they needed to bow to my will.
If you come into our office this year and the tree is tasteful you will know that Emma, our summer clerk, has decided that a reference from me is not necessary to her career.
"If you are running a Secret Santa, make sure staff are told that gifts should be inoffensive."
How times have changed. I can remember being a young lawyer over 20 years ago when every single secret Santa gift given in our firm was horribly offensive. I recall seeing things at my first Secret Santa in this office that I had only read about.
"Provide clear written guidance to all employees about acceptable standards of behaviour at work-related social events, equal opportunities and harassment, as well as the disciplinary sanctions that could result from breaches of the rules. Make it clear that fighting, excessive alcohol consumption, the use of illegal drugs, inappropriate behaviour, sexist or racist remarks and comments about sexual orientation, disability, age or religion will not be tolerated."
If my employer gave me "clear written guidance" about how to behave at the Christmas party, I wouldn't go. In the past I think that (other than the use of illicit drugs) I have broken every one of those rules.
Apparently in Europe a case occurred where three employees got drunk and had a fight after seven hours of drinking at a free bar supplied by their employer. They successfully argued that their resulting dismissals were unfair. A relevant factor was that the employer had provided a free bar, and therefore condoned their behaviour.
Oh for goodness sake, what a load of rubbish. Since when has a free bar been an indication to drink as much as you can and start snotting your co-workers?
Enjoy the work parties.
» Mary-Jane Thomas is a partner at Preston Russell Law. E-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Southland Times