Ho, Ho Ho, was not a common reader response to our recent “Santa With A Phallic Symbol” post.  The post did, however, open a floodgate of comments, mainly from HR people, about what is proper in the workplace and what is not.

Bernie Althofer, a business owner and management consultant from Brisbane, Australia, made the following comment on the UK “Bullying, Harssment, Discrimination” LinkedIn group site created and managed wonderfully by Annabel Kaye (HR and diversity folks — its worth joining wherever you are), which we thought was well thought out, well written and well worth the effort of a good read:

11587987_s“Xmas time seems to bring out the best and the worst in behaviour.  At the moment, there are a number of presentations and online articles highlighting the risks involved with Xmas parties. In the past, there have been warnings about ‘secret Santas’ etc. In some cases it appears that the message is not getting through.

It appears from the various discussion groups that whilst different countries have legislation and a number of organisations have developed policies and procedures to meet legislative requirements, the actual implementation thereof in some workplaces leaves a lot to be desired (as indicated with the lead in article).

It has been my experience that some people can be very well behaved until there is mention of a secret Santa and then anything goes. For example, I was once given a coffee mug with the words “Guess how many donuts I can fit on my ….”  As a Harassment Referral Officer, I found it inappropriate and as a senior employee, I also found the actions of managers condoning the giving of such gifts offensive.  When I raised my concerns, I was told to “lighten up, it’s Xmas, besides if you don’t know who gave it to you, what can you do about it?”  Well, looking back, I can use it as an example in presentations.

What one person finds funny, others may find completely offensive. Workplaces need to have standards and managers and supervisors need to ensure that these standards are maintained. In addition, given that changes have been made in relation to WHS at least in Australia, employees need to understand the obligations now placed on them. In some cases, a workplace bullying claim involves a range of other issues, e.g., unlawful discrimination (including sexual harassment).  For example, repeatedly targeting someone because of their hair colouring and the use of nicknames in doing so could result in adverse findings.

In a number of discussions the issue of reasonable management comes up. There seems to be considerable difference of opinion in relation to this and sometimes this will depend on who is considering the issue. In addition, there appears to be a need to increase understanding about the reasonable person test.

The term ‘reasonable person’ means an ordinary person, possessed of such powers of self control as everyone is entitled to expect that their fellow citizens will exercise in society.

Circumstances to be considered can include:

–—  The position, rank, level of authority/influence of the alleged bully in relation to the other person
—–  Relationship between the bully and the other person
—–  The sex, physical size, strength or age of the bully relative to the other person
—–  Any impairment (physical or otherwise) that the other person has
—–  The frequency/severity/repetitiveness of the conduct
—–  The availability of workplace policies/procedures/standards on workplace conduct (e.g. code of conduct)

Workplaces need to have discussions so that everyone has a clear understanding about this aspect.”

Good comment, Bernie!