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Beware those mistletoe moments at work

29/11/2017

With the festive season approaching faster than Santa in his sleigh, the annual Christmas party is, for many of us, just around the corner.

The annual gathering of colleagues brings with it a stereotypical reputation as a hotbed of flirting and, occasionally, the odd moment under the mistletoe. 

But with awareness of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace heightened following the allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey, Tracy Worthington, Partner in our Employment team, has this advice:  

The Christmas party is often the only time of year when colleagues get together and let their hair down. With alcohol added into the mix, it can be a time when normal behaviour goes out of the window.  

The lines can be blurred in a social atmosphere and open to individual interpretation -  someone might think it’s ok to make racy jokes or engage in ‘banter’ or flirting, where the other may find it offensive or humiliating.  

But the works do is an extension of the workplace and the usual rules in relation to personal conduct apply.  

However, a recent ruling by a High Court judge has given some guidance on what constitutes acceptable behaviour for flirting.  

The case focused on two single governors at an NHS trust who went for supper and drinks together. Dr. Zara Hosany claimed Kofo David had made a pass at her, saying he wanted to be more than friends and then bullied her when she turned him down.  

Mr. David denied making a pass and sued Dr. Hosany for libel, claiming that the allegations were untrue and made maliciously.  

Mr. Justice Moloney ruled that Dr. Hosany’s complaints were legally protected and not made maliciously.  

But he said: “A reasonable, right-thinking member of modern society would not consider it shocking or discreditable for a man, at the end of a social evening alone with a single woman of equal status whom he found attractive and friendly, to put his arm around her waist and ask her if she would like them to become closer.  

“Provided he did nothing positively indecent and took ‘no’ for an answer, most right-thinking people would accept this as a normal part of life.”  

It’s useful for comments like this to be made in a legal case as it provides some guidance on what is acceptable or unacceptable behaviour.

With the recent high profile allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace, businesses need to make sure they have clear policies to inspire the right culture in their workplace and make sure that employees are aware of them in the run up to the Christmas party.  

Although it’s not terribly British, common sense dictates that any potential relationship should be initiated away from work with people advised to ask whether a person is interested in a relationship, before any physical contact.  

If the answer’s no, a simple and polite ‘thanks but no thanks’, should avoid any awkward moments under the mistletoe this Christmas.

If you would like any further advice, please contact Tracy on 01902 392476 or t.worthington@fbcmb.co.uk

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