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Blog: Secret Santa – the perils of the annual workplace present giving

Now, I am not trying to be a Scrooge about this – but we need to talk about Secret Santa.  It has now become almost mythically traditional for workplaces to indulge in this ‘secret’ present giving where everyone is forced to give a secret present to another member of staff.

We’ve all been there: trying to find that perfect present (for a fiver) for a fellow colleague – deep in the knowledge that unless you drunkenly tell them it was you, you will NEVER get any credit for it. That is the type of Secret Santa that is just about acceptable.

What is not acceptable is when it becomes an excuse to bully, harass or generally embarrass your colleagues (because of course, you all have to open the presents in front of each other don’t you?). You hear stories of some seriously inappropriate gifts; bald employees being given wigs, women being given sexy underwear and gay employees being given lubricants – all in the name of ‘Christmas fun’. It is absolutely the case that an inappropriate gift given in this way could give rise to a claim of discrimination or harassment against the employer – or at least be used as further evidence of an already toxic work environment.

If your workplace does get involved in Secret Santa, perhaps it would be a good idea to have a scan at present giving time. Are any presents offensive? What do they say about your organisation? I am not saying you need to consign it to the Christmas dustbin, but if as in some organisations, this present giving has got wildly out of hand, it might be a good idea to give it the red card.  Save yourself the grief of post-Christmas Employment Tribunal claims.

And finally a word of caution from my own experience. My husband was happily Secret Santa-ing a couple of years ago and handed over a nice (but not very expensive) scented candle as a gift for a female colleague. For some reason he didn’t see her open it at work.  It was only on Christmas day when his brother opened a scented candle that he realised he’d given his colleague his brother’s rather expensive Bluetooth speaker instead!  So after Christmas he had to pop out to buy yet another Bluetooth speaker…

Happy Christmas everyone!

Anne-Marie Boyle
Email Anne-Marie or call 0117 325 0924

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