Essential HR rules for a workplace Secret Santa

  • Employee Conduct
Alan Price - Peninsula's Chief Operations Officer and CEO of BrightHR

Alan Price, Chief Operations Officer

(Last updated )

When Secret Santa turns sour… In a ‘joke’ present gone horribly wrong, a police officer lost his job after gifting a Muslim colleague bacon and wine. So, whilst it’s good to enjoy some festive team-bonding, you must set rules to avoid unboxing some nasty HR surprises.

At the most wonderful time of year, follow these tips for a stress-free Secret Santa this Christmas…

1. Set a budget

It’s best to set a maximum spending budget for gifts as this avoids the issue of some people spending more money than others.

That way, there are no disappointments or quarrels if one person gets a luxury afternoon tea, and another gets a pair of socks.

It’s also important to be mindful that in the current cost of living crisis, money is tighter than ever. Staff may have their own financial concerns, especially if they have to spend a lot of money on a colleague they don’t really know.

The focus should be on having fun, rather than feeling pressure to spend. It might be good to set a maximum price of £5-£10 as an example, so everyone’s on even footing.

2. Establish boundaries and guidelines

It goes without saying that some gifts are not suitable for work. Anything sexually suggestive like lingerie is a no. Also, avoid gifts that target a personal quality and may cause offense, like a healthy eating cookbook or deodorant.

If you’re not sure whether something is appropriate, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution.

Staff should avoid gifts that may relate to any characteristic under the Equality Act, like someone’s age, race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. Otherwise, there’s a risk of discrimination claims if an employee views their gift as disrespectful or derogatory because of a personal characteristic.

In general, staff should avoid buying any gifts that might cause offence. Even if it seems like harmless fun, it could go horribly wrong if a gift makes someone feel victimised and upset. So, it’s always best to stay safe.

You could email out suggestions for Secret Santa gifts to help staff think of appropriate ideas. This can also help make sure that no one crosses the line.

3. Make participation optional

You can invite all staff to take part in Secret Santa but make it clear that participation is optional.

Some workers may not want to join in on the gift-giving and it’s important to respect individual decisions to opt out. Plus, making Secret Santa a compulsory activity could stir up feelings of resentment in unwilling employees, which will do more harm to morale than good.

4. Operate a fair system

You should make sure your system for matching staff up is fair. You should randomly select Secret Santas.

This means no swapping names or allowing workers to have a say in who they’re buying for. The best way to make sure the system is fair is to simply draw names out of a hat. That way, no one can claim there’s been any favouritism or bias. It’s all down to chance.

5. Remind staff of your policies

Remind your staff that whilst you want them to have fun, you still expect them to follow your HR policies and code of conduct. Point them to your policies on discrimination, bullying, and harassment in your employee handbook.

Regardless of the occasion, your workers should act in line with your company values. And if they don’t, let them know you’ll take disciplinary action if necessary.

Don’t let HR issues steal your Christmas…

Don’t let HR issues try to steal your Christmas fun. When you take the right steps, you and your staff can make this festive season one to remember, whilst keeping the risk of costly claims to a minimum.

For practical HR advice on how to keep your workplace safe and risk-free this winter, give us a call on 0800 029 4384 today for a free consultation.

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