Keeping Christmas Parties Under Control

‘Tis the season to be jolly, however sometimes ‘tis the season to turn a happy holiday into the nightmare before Christmas. Unwanted romantic attention at the Christmas party can be problematic and can lead to sexual harassment complaints creating a headache worse than a hangover for unsuspecting managers.

What is harassment?
Harassment is any form of attention which is not invited or enjoyed
and persists to the point of making the person subject to it annoyed,
uncomfortable or upset. It can take the form of offensive jokes,
innuendo, rude gestures, unwanted deliberate contact, offensive
emails and electronic images. Sexual or racial harassment constitutes
serious misconduct and is illegal under the Human Rights Act and
the Employment Relations Act.
Sexual harassment is still sexual harassment, even if you are at a
party. In an Employment Relations Authority case, a woman cited an
example of inappropriate behaviour in which her supervisor, dressed
as Santa, used a bottle opener to form a “graphic and prominent
phallic symbol which he attached to his garb”.
Sexual harassment may be unintentional and the (alleged)
perpetrator may be unaware of the effect it is having on the person
at whom it is directed. They can still be held accountable. The person
who is subjected to the harassment does not need to have told
the perpetrator that the behaviour is hurtful in order to be able to
pursue a personal grievance.
What is bullying?
WorkSafe NZ guidelines define workplace bullying as “repeated and
unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of
workers that creates a risk to health and safety.” The definition goes
on to explain that:
Repeated behaviour is persistent and can involve a range of actions
over time.
Unreasonable behaviour means actions that a reasonable person
in the same circumstances would see as unreasonable. It includes
victimising, humiliating intimidating or threatening a person. If an
employee makes a complaint of harassment or bullying always take
the complaint seriously and investigate thoroughly.
Bullying and harassment is most effectively dealt with by leading
by example; showing that neither is acceptable. It is also essential to
include unacceptable behaviours as hazards or risks in your health
and safety system. Immediate assessment of additional controls
should occur in each instance of a bullying or harassment complaint.
There are specific requirements for how to respond and investigate
a bullying or harassment complaint. Do not hesitate to contact us for
advice if you think you may have a complaint to address.
For more information, please contact:
Kay Chapman
03 545 0877