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.