|Celebrating Xmas could be tricky, finds UK, Inc.
TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ SATURDAY, DECEMBER 02, 2006 01:04:53 PM]
LONDON: This one takes the Christmas cake on anti-discrimination in the workplace. Santa's got such a serious attack of political correctness, the office Christmas party is on the endangered list. For all those of you worrying about OBC quotas in the workplace , employers in the UK are calling off that innocuous annual bash thanks to some rather stringent government advice about do's and don'ts .
Here's a sample: Don't give out alcoholic prizes or gifts; you could upset the muslims, or meat in case they're veggies. Ditto for the social club selling raffle tickets; gambling is forbidden by some religions . If your employees get drunk, bosses have a 'duty of care' liability, so make sure that they drive home safely, or hire buses. If a gay employee is harassed at the local pub on his way to the party, yes, he can sue the company.
And of course, confiscate the mistletoe, lest you hit sexual harassment issues, don't play music that only the young appreciate, we have age-discrimination laws to worry about. Make sure your Christmas decorations don't rub shoulders with health and safety regulations, and of course, no nativities . Trees, tinsel, and lights are 'inherently secular' so that just barely makes the grade. We've not really heard the verdict on Santa, but quite possibly good St Nicholas may not pass the employment tribunal's test as being secular enough to attend the office party.
What's left? Not much it seems, going by the reaction of employers. The Forum for Private Business said that companies are so worried about being sued, they're calling the festivities off. Speaking to the media, a spokesman for the Forum said that "Bosses feel they have been given unreasonable responsibility for employees who may have had a mishap after over-indulging . The smaller the business, the more acutely aware they are of the consequence of being taken to a tribunal."
To be fair, large parts of business and the media have greeted the advice with reactions ranging from hoots of derision to a shrug of the shoulders. In a country which is both paranoid about political (read religious) correctness , and is frequently described as a Nanny state, the government's advice may seem to many as a little over the top.
But the Advisory Conciliaton and Arbitration Service , the public-funded organisation which issued the advice, says that it has prepared its advisory based on the hundreds of calls its helpline gets every Christmas from organisations with problems. Clearly the hangover of parties is something that clogs up employment tribunals every year. The organisation even runs training courses to help employers navigate the tricky Christmas season.
What this whole palaver highlights are the more serious issues faced almost daily by employers here. The huge plethora of anti-discrimination legislation — the EU is even more stringent — can make the simplest things a nightmare.