Gill Taylor: Top tips for charity staff at Christmas party time

Let your hair down during the festive season, but not too much, writes our columnist

Gill Taylor
Gill Taylor

The Christmas party scene is fast approaching, and we HR professionals don't want to be the only ones responsible for making sure people behave fairly and safely when they are having a good time. We don't want to be the killjoys and spectres at the feast.

But we know too much about what has happened before. No one in the sector likes to think our employees do bad or unethical things - and mostly they don't; but charity people are not exempt from going off the rails and indulging in a spot of unsuitable behaviour.

So to help everyone behave like grown ups and remember that there will be work again after the Christmas holiday, here is a check list of things to look out for and avoid over the party season.

If booze is to be served in the office, it might be unwise to expect people to go back to work afterwards. If they do, they might actually send that email they have been longing to circulate about the peccadillos of the chief executive.

Employers can be held vicariously liable for discriminatory acts by employees at parties, even if the event is held off-site and out of normal work hours. The claim most likely to come up is sexual harassment, but employers should be aware that, under the Equality Act 2010, protection from harassment extends more widely.

It includes unwanted conduct on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation. Ensuring that employees are aware of the policy on harassment is a key first step to making sure people behave well and within acceptable bounds.

Photocopying bits of your anatomy that are usually covered up might also seem funny at the time - but pictures posted on Facebook can easily come back and cause you serious embarrassment.

Telling tales also can happen. Gossip is so tempting, and passing on the bosses' indiscretions in the hearing of HR people might be too hard to resist. But we don't want to hear this kind of confidential information, even if you are a bit drunk and it's Christmas Eve. And if you allege something we really can't ignore, we will have to investigate after the holidays. That could be a headache for both parties.

The other key headache for HR happens earlier, in the run-up to the holidays. This is the question of when work will stop for Christmas and which days are included in the break, a subject that is particularly complicated for the part-timers.

To be clear, there is no right to additional annual leave over the Christmas break, but some employers do shut the office for 10 days between Christmas and New Year and require staff to book leave.

In light of all the above, there is another message that comes through strongly: be nice to HR people this Christmas. They deserve it because they'd like to enjoy their Christmas break too.

Gill Taylor is a sector HR consultant

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