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Lincoln solicitor warns of Christmas Secret Santa legal dangers

By Lincolnshire Echo  |  Posted: December 04, 2013

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As offices across Lincolnshire gear up for some Secret Santa fun, one Lincoln solicitor is warning of potential legal dangers of the light-hearted tradition.

While many consider raunchy gifts as harmless office banter, solicitor Shona Morton of Wilkin Chapman LLP has warned of problems from an employment law perspective for employers and employees alike.

Employers often have clear policies in place confirming their commitment to equal opportunities and their disciplinary procedures will confirm that discriminatory behaviour by employees will not be tolerated.

But all this hard work can be undone if inappropriate gifts appear from Secret Santa’s sack.

“One enduring ritual is the public humiliation of a present from ‘Secret Santa’," she said.

"You may think this is really some harmless fun and banter creating a warm glow among the team and some useful Facebook pictures of the MD wearing his “sex god” novelty apron.

"However, could it be an event which is more likely to give rise to serious grievances and potential discrimination claims?

“In a much publicised case several years ago, a police officer gave a Muslim colleague a bottle of wine and a packet of bacon in a Secret Santa. The individual wasn’t particularly offended but others present were and the culprit was forced to resign.

"Sexually provocative presents - the ubiquitous chocolate willy or sexy underwear – may well be offensive; it’s not enough to suggest that it’s just ‘banter’ or that the recipient can’t take a joke.

“Even where something does not offend against the prescribed ‘protected characteristics’ problems can still arise – gifts such as deodorant or diet books can cause lingering resentment.

"Individuals would be unlikely to give such gifts to their family and friends and work colleagues are entitled to no less respect.”

A recent survey highlighted that 73 per cent of companies still thought Secret Santa was a good idea.

Ms Morton added that although there is no reason to ban Secret Santa, a simple reminder to employees to think carefully about the individual they are buying for would be a sensible precaution.

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3 comments

  • Steve_Lincoln  |  December 04 2013, 7:31PM

    "You may think this is really some harmless fun and banter creating a warm glow among the team and some useful Facebook pictures of the MD wearing his "sex god" novelty apron" Yep, that's exactly what it is. Believe it or not Mr Solicitor, some people in this country still know how to have a bit of fun without resorting to legal challenges!

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  • Pete67  |  December 04 2013, 5:50PM

    Just leave them a massive parcel with a small note inside. 'I was going to get something, but anybody if they try hard enough can take offence at anything so therefor you get nothing!'

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  • theknowitall  |  December 04 2013, 5:44PM

    Yes, you have to be very careful. For instance you must make sure if you need to by a white chocolate willy or a dark chocolate willy. The dark one's tend to cost more and need substantially more wrapping paper but it pays to do your research. Presumably all the other problems such as poverty, NHS, budget deficit etc have now been resolved and we are on to other matters.

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