Beware sexist secret Santa gifts, practices told

Dental teams should think twice before buying gifts that could be deemed ‘sexist’ or ‘offensive’ for the traditional Secret Santa exchange at work.

A law firm is warning that humorous presents such as underwear, aprons, hair dye, diet books, breath freshener, alcohol and deodorant should be avoided as they can cause religious and moral offence to some colleagues and could result in a harassment case.

Neeta Laing, head of employment law at Manchester-based law firm Lewis Hymanson Small, explains: ‘As employees up and down the country gear up to give each other Christmas gifts, workers should think carefully before buying their colleague a present that could be viewed as offensive.

‘Use your common sense, for example, don’t give religious colleagues alcohol or offensive magazines, male colleagues tool kits or female workers kitchenalia.’

Harassment, in general terms, is unwanted conduct affecting the dignity of men and women in the workplace.

It may be related to age, sex, race, disability, religion, sexual orientation, nationality or any personal characteristic of the individual, and may be persistent or an isolated incident.

This constitutes actions or comments that are viewed as demeaning and unacceptable to the recipient.

Neeta Laing continues: ‘If an employee does receive, for example, a pair of lacy knickers and finds the gift offensive and wishes to pursue a harassment case, this must be taken seriously. There are certain steps an employer and the organisation must follow.

‘A well-designed policy is essential in addressing harassment. Policies should be agreed with union or employee representatives and should:

• Explain the damaging effects of harassment and why it will not be tolerated

• State that it will be treated as a disciplinary offence

• Clarify the legal implications and outline the costs associated with personal liability

• Describe how to get help and make a complaint, formally and informally

• Promise that allegations will be treated speedily, seriously and confidentially and that you prevent victimisation

• Emphasise that every employee carries responsibility for their behaviour.

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