Editor's Comment: Ditch the bah humbug!

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Annie Ward

By Annie Hayes, HRZone Editor

Abandon the mistletoe was amongst this year’s warnings from the TUC and RoSPA who advise that sexual harassment claims could be queuing up for bosses who dare to party without precautions; Editor’s Comment ponders whether it has all gone just too far.

Party protocol guides repeatedly warn us that partying can be dangerous – an ill-thought out comment or an inappropriate approach could be the ruin of the company, they say.

The Trades Union Congress and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents certainly took the ‘kid-gloves’ approach with their guide this yuletide.

Smooching at the office party is a definite no-no so ditch the mistletoe they say also don’t forget to check that desks and tables are sturdy if you want to avoid an injury claim – dancing divas could have a nasty accident if the office furniture can’t withstand the fat cats’ weight.

Frances O’Grady, TUC Deputy General Secretary, said of the party rules: “There won’t be much Christmas cheer in your workplace if your winter wonderland turns out to be a danger zone. Some simple precautions can make sure your party goes off with a bang, instead of a crash.”

But hasn’t it all gone too far? Schools are cancelling the traditional nativity play for fear of offending parents of other faiths, decorations are being ditched by shopping centres to ensure against fire hazards and Father Christmas is being criticized by the P-C gang who want to know why it isn’t Mother Christmas.

Tony Blair is also playing it safe by issuing an official greetings card that omits the C word and offers only best wishes for the new year.

So what was once the annual office party knees up is now just an accident waiting to happen.

I was amused to see a posting on AccountingWeb from ‘Alan’ who shared a letter from his Human Resources Director with members – which sums up the dilemmas perfectly. It read as follows:

Subject: all employees
FROM: Pauline Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: 4 November 2004
RE: Christmas Party.

I’m happy to inform you that the company Christmas Party will take place on December 23rd, starting at noon in the private function room at the Grill House. There will be a cash bar and plenty of drinks! We’ll have a small band playing traditional carols .... please feel free to sing along. And don’t be surprised if the MD shows up dressed as Santa Claus! A Christmas tree will be lit at 1:00pm.

Exchange of gifts among employees can be done at that time; however, no gift should be over £10.00 to make the giving of gifts easy for everyone’s pockets. This gathering is only for employees! The MD will make a special announcement at the Party. A Merry Christmas to you and your Family.


The next day the staff memo read rather differently:

FROM: Pauline Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: 5 November 2004
RE: Holiday Party

In no way was yesterday’s memo intended to exclude our Jewish employees. We recognise that Chanukah is an important holiday, which often coincides with Christmas, though unfortunately not this year. However, from now on we’re calling it our “Holiday Party”. The same policy applies to any other employees who are not Christians.

There will be no Christmas tree or Christmas carols sung. We will have other types of music for your enjoyment. Happy now? Happy Holidays to you and your family.

And the day after that ……

FROM: Pauline Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: 6 November 2004
RE: Holiday Party.

Regarding the note I received from a member of Alcoholics Anonymous requesting a non-drinking table ... you didn’t sign your name. I’m happy to accommodate this request, but if I put a sign on a table that reads, “AA Only”; you wouldn’t be anonymous anymore!!!!! How am I supposed to handle this? Somebody?

Forget about the gift exchange, no gift exchange allowed now since the Union Officials feel that £10.00 is too much money and Management believe £10.00 is a little cheap NO GIFT EXCHANGE WILL BE ALLOWED.


Bogus or not the issues addressed by Pauline, illustrate just what many HR directors are facing at Christmas.

More poignantly perhaps all this Bah Humbug is just a rather sad result of our increasingly litigious society. The ‘fear’ is now deep-seated and what was once about having some fun and ending the year on a high is now a potential money-pit for claimants out to make a fast buck.

Don’t get me wrong sexual harassment after one to many party beverages is quite clearly wrong, but can’t we just have a bit of fun?

So beware if you are arm yourself with a good enough solicitor and an ET1 form you might just make it through to the New Year. If you don’t yule be sorry!


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