Secret Santa


On the 10th day of Christmas my employer said to me…. “who’s up for Secret Santa?” …half the workplace cheer and the other half groan!!! So how do we set boundaries while maintaining the fun?

Secret Santa is a Christmas tradition, the idea of which can be traced back to a Scandinavian custom of knocking on someone’s door, throwing a present inside and then running away. Now it is something that you can apparently do online… who knew!

The purpose of Secret Santa is to spread Christmas cheer, boost morale and encourage team building and friendships. In all elements of social interaction in the workplace however, you need  to remain mindful that not everyone’s interpretation of “fun” “banter” and “appropriate” is the same. What one member of the team may see as light hearted or amusing, another member could perceive as offensive or even discriminatory.

The Equality Act 2010 defines harassment as unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect of either violating a persons dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person. It is a wide definition and places the onus on the perception of the offended person rather than the intention of the person behind the conduct. It is therefore possible that a Secret Santa gift could fall within the definition of harassment, especially if the gift could be perceived as offensive and especially if it is of a sexual nature – which is more common than you would expect!!

To make sure that the giving of gifts is mutually enjoyable to all, set some ground rules, linking back to your existing internal policies. This could include:

  • a reminder that gifts must not be in any way offensive, offering an open discussion and/or guidance if the employee is unsure;
  • a reminder that not everyone may wish to be involved and those that do not participate should not be criticised;
  • details of any spending limits; and
  • where you have specific concerns about more risky gift ideas, a reminder that HR reserves the right to examine gifts before they are given.

It can be difficult to strike a balance between encouraging a fun holiday tradition and avoiding a potential complaint or worse, an Employment Tribunal claim, but provided you are clear and upfront about your expectations and limitations, fun can still be had by all.

Come back tomorrow for Day 11 of our series which will discuss notice of redundancy over the Christmas period.


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