Don’t let Secret Santa ruin Christmas

With many organisations gearing up for the busy Christmas period, it is typical to organise various seasonal activities such as a secret Santa and a Christmas party. These end of year events are an important part of the employer’s calendar as they afford an opportunity to thank employees for their hard work over the preceding year. There are potential pitfalls for employers however which need to be borne in mind. The exchange of inappropriate presents and inappropriate behaviour at parties or social events can lead to Christmas HR headaches.

Secret Santa tip

When it comes to running a Secret Santa, you should remember to ensure that the gifts don’t run the risk of undermining someone’s dignity. Remind employees that what is funny to some employees can be offensive to others. Gifts should not, therefore, include obscene language, be sexually explicit, or include anything that could humiliate the recipient.

Office party tip

Your organisation should also have a work-related social events policy clearly outlining that inappropriate behaviour such as offensive conduct, unwanted sexual advances and violence will not be tolerated and will be dealt through the company’s disciplinary procedure as well as the Gardaí if necessary.

Vicarious liability of employer for employee misbehaviour

You should remember too that poor behaviour by an employee may not just reflect badly on you as an employer and damage working relationships, but you may also be vicariously liable for such actions.  Section 15 of the Employment Equality Acts, 1998-2015 provides that any actions of an employee in the course of his or her employment shall be treated as being done also by that person’s employer, whether or not it was done with the employer’s knowledge or approval.

By way of example, where an employee is insulted by the behaviour of a colleague at the Christmas party you as the employer may still be considered liable even if you had no knowledge of the incident.

Importance of relevant HR policies

The employment equality legislation does provide a defence to employers who can prove that they took reasonably practicable steps to prevent the employee acting in such a manner.

The Court of Appeal in England and Wales recently ruled that a recruitment company was liable for the actions of an employee who punched another a colleague at a Christmas party – even though it was after the hours of the event.

The Christmas party season poses tricky HR problems.  Contact our advice line on +353 1 886 0350 to discuss the issues raised in this post or any other HR issue affecting your organisation.

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Nora Cashe


Nóra studied Law in Griffith College Dublin and qualified as a Barrister in 2008, practising in the area of Criminal law. She is also member of the Irish Employment Law Association.

Nora has extensive experience representing clients at Employment Tribunal hearings, Conciliation / Mediation meetings before both the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. 

Nóra is a member of the Irish Employment Law Association and engages with the WRC Adjudication Service as part of their stakeholder engagement forum.

Deiric McCann

Genos International Europe

Deiric McCann leads Genos International Europe – The EU division of a world-leading provider of emotional intelligence solutions. 

With over two decades experience at the highest levels of management, Deiric supports clients to develop the resilience, emotional intelligence, psychological safety and engagements of their employees.

Rhiannon Coyne

Graphite HRM

Rhiannon Coyne is a Senior HR Consultant at Graphite HRM and will be providing an overview of best practice on how to deal with complaints of bullying and harassment in the workplace. 

With a number of recent updates to employment laws, Rhiannon will take a closer look at employment equality and how it is interlinked to Health & Safety and what employers can learn from recent case laws.

David Begg

Workplace Relations Commission

David Begg was appointed Chairperson of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in January 2021.

David is also a professor at Maynooth University Institute of Social Sciences. Mr Begg’s extensive history in the trade union movement included leading the ESB Officers Association and Irish Congress of Trade Unions, stepping away from the latter in 2001 to chair international aid agency Concern.

David Begg was also previously a director of the Central Bank of Ireland between 1995 and 2010.