December 13, 2018

Mistletoe and #MeToo – Time to Retire a Christmas Tradition?

When you think of Christmas, lots of traditions spring to mind such as mince pies, mulled wine and mistletoe. However, the idea that if you meet someone under the mistletoe, you have to kiss them, does not sit easy with many of us. Especially at a work Christmas party.

As an employer, should you remove all mistletoe from your Christmas party venue? While you certainly shouldn’t actively encourage the tradition, research by Morrisons revealed that 71% of under 35s have never kissed anyone under the mistletoe, and it appears the connotation between mistletoe and kissing has died out.

Romances, relationships and unwanted sexual advances can be a source of serious concern at work Christmas parties. So is it time to reconsider the UK tradition of kissing under the mistletoe?

Workplace romances

Drunken flirting will almost always occur at a Christmas party. Many relationships that develop in the workplace have in fact started at a Christmas party. There’s very little point in trying to make an outright ban on workplace romances because this often encourages secrecy which makes situations far more difficult to deal with. For the most part, a casual fling between two consenting adults or a relationship that develops because of a Christmas party, is not a problem within the workplace, and is often a private matter between two individuals.

Unwanted sexual advances

However, the combination of alcohol and relaxed boundaries can not only result in drunken arguments, but can also give rise to serious misconduct such as unwanted sexual advances.

There’s very clear guidance in employment law that you as an employer are vicariously liable for the behaviour of your employees at work social events.

As our HR Technology & Services Director, Michelle Hobson, says:

“You need to remember your duty of care towards employees. It’s important to make sure you have the right policies and procedures in place which explicitly state that sexual harassment in any context is completely unacceptable and potentially gross misconduct”.

If you’d like to find out more about your role and responsibilities as an employer when holding a Christmas Party, click here to listen to our HR Essentials: Christmas Party Survival Guide Webinar.

The rise of the #MeToo movement and the allegations made against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein have increased awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace. However, the behaviour that constitutes sexual harassment, at a Christmas party or at any other time, hasn’t changed. The #MeToo movement reaffirms that unwanted contact or conduct of a sexual nature is not okay in any circumstance.

It’s important to ensure that if this worst-case scenario did happen, your employees would feel safe raising this to you, and you have the appropriate policies, procedures and processes in place to deal with an incident of this nature.

Throughout December we’re offering a free HR Advice Line Call for anyone looking for advice on how to handle a Christmas party related situation should things go wrong. The hotline is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm until 23rd December 2018. To use the service please call 0845 073 0240 and quote ref FA001.

Do’s and Don’ts for a work Christmas party

We’ve complied a list of do’s and don’ts for minimising the risk of things going wrong at a Christmas party.

Do:

  • Ensure you have the right policies and procedures in place
  • Set expectations to your employees about acceptable behaviour
  • Ensure leaders/managers set the right example
  • Keep an eye on social media
  • Be prepared to deal with any inappropriate behaviour

Don’t:

  • Provide excessive/unlimited access to alcohol
  • Forget health and safety

Although the above points are serious, remember that your overall aim is for everyone to have fun. Ending the year on a high note will help to start 2019 with happy and motivated employees enabling you to focus on your New Year plans.

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About the author

Hannah Booth