Legal Warnings Over Secret Santa Gifts

18 December 2010, 06:00

A Suffolk law firm has been telling Heart, that some gifts which are given as part of 'Secret Santa', could be seen as offensive and in some cases lead to legal action.

We're being warned people giving distasteful presents could land themselves a harassment charge, particularly if gifts are offensive towards a person's age, sex, race, disability, religion, sexual orientation, nationality or personal characteristics. 

Matthew Potter, a partner at Ashton Graham solicitor's in Ipswich told Heart:

"In terms of discrimination law, there is a possibility that if you were to wrap up a present that may cause offense to somebody, they may decide to pursue a claim against their employer or they could indeed decide to pursue a claim against a fellow employee. It can be anything from religious discrimination, grounds of sexual orientation, sexual harassment, sexual discrimination or even age discrimination."

"If you are buying a gift for a colleague you know very well, then you know you're not necessarily going to cause offense. At the same time, if you are doing a lucky dip you should perhaps be getting something that isn't going to be causing offense to anybody and playing it safe. It is really about common sense."

He added, "It is about having fun, but employers and employees alike just need to be careful that office parties are an extension of the office, therefore need to be governed in the way that you may conduct yourself in the office. One thing employers could do is putting is having a word with staff ahead of the Christmas season just so they know what they should and shouldn't be doing." 

Worst case scenario is that the claim could go to an employment tribunal not only focusing on the employer, but also on the employee. You are looking at damages to injury to feelings and damages to loss of employment and it costs a lot of time in terms of costs of legal fees and management fees. Cases like these do happen, you can't ignore that they don't. But again, it is about common sense approach and people enjoying the Christmas season."

Employers are also being advised to create clear guidelines and policies in regards to the Christmas period, particularly over Secret Santa and the Christmas party.