We’ve all heard wonderful or salacious or horrifying stories from office Christmas parties – stories of drunken sex, over-abundant drugs, unwanted, inappropriate advances, bullying, discrimination and in extreme cases, post-party sackings.
And we know responsible bosses take steps to ensure bad behaviour is minimised, while making sure all staff have a good time and stay safe.
So, in workplaces everywhere, computers ping with the sound of human resources’ emails reminding staff of their responsibilities at Christmas parties.
They say things like – “While the party is a time to relax, it’s still a work function, and workplace rules and regulations apply at all times.” And “We remind you that the use of illegal drugs and/or excessive consumption of alcohol is prohibited at all times during the Christmas party.”
Christmas parties are a great way to let your hair down at the end of a hard year – and you probably deserve it. However, there are legal implications and pitfalls that come with too much Christmas cheer at the office party – for both employers and employees.
The Victorian Public Sector Commission has some specific advice – “Expected standards of behaviour should also be reinforced before a work-related social function, such as an office Christmas party.” (VPSC Managing behaviour guidelines)
Some guidelines mention the appropriateness of gift exchanges, and we thought it worthwhile to check if it’s ok for public servants to receive gifts.
The Victorian Public Sector Commission has clear guidelines for Victorian public sector employees on giving and receiving gifts, benefits and hospitality at work.
The VPSC is very specific about this, particularly when dealing with those involved in procurement. “Some employees perform roles that necessarily call for greater scrutiny. Members of an Accredited Purchasing Unit or those involved in purchasing goods and services must not accept gifts from contractors, particularly when a tender has been advertised. Inspectors must not accept gifts from people seeking licenses. Those who award grants must not accept gifts from applicants. Policy makers must not accept gifts from lobbyists. In each of these cases the employee has the power to make a decision in the donor’s favour and could be influenced by the gift.”
Reporting gift offers must be thorough, transparent and accessible to all staff.
Public sector organisations’ gifts, benefits and hospitality policies determine which gifts are reportable. Where gifts are accepted (and sometimes when they aren’t), they must be appropriately recorded.
At a minimum, reportable gifts would include any accepted gifts of more than nominal value. They could also include gift offers of any value, whether they are accepted or not. – VPSC
The VPSC goes on to spell out in more detail what is appropriate. “The employee records the details of the offer on a gifts declaration form, including the decision taken to accept or decline the gift. Most policies require that gift declarations are authorised by a manager or organisational delegate. The details are then transferred to a gifts register. Significant gifts are also recorded on the assets register.”
“Part-time directors may want to record any reportable gifts on the gifts register of each public entity on which they serve. This would mean that each public entity has a complete record of the offers made to their directors. Information on gifts registers is not shared between public entities.”
“The organisation’s audit committee reviews the gifts register or the gifts declarations on file to assure the organisation that there is transparent reporting of accepted gifts, benefits and hospitality, and there is no evidence of attempts to improperly influence the decisions or actions taken by its employees.”
And what about all those Christmas parties you are being invited to? Is it proper for you to go along to celebrate the end of the year with those you’ve done business with at work? Common sense applies here. Modest hospitality is fine. If it’s a picnic in the park, or finger food and a few drinks in the workplace, it’s ok for you to share modest hospitality. If it’s a gig on a grand scale, such as a corporate Christmas table at an international star’s concert, the VPSC provides some guidance – “Public sector organisations are encouraged to require their employees and managers to consider whether there is a public benefit to attending private functions in an official capacity. Where there is no clear public benefit, organisations’ policies should ordinarily require that an invitation is declined.” And you need to be mindful of the implications of attending functions with your partner. The same rules apply – if your attendance can be perceived as an endorsement of the product or service, you must refuse. This is the case even if the invitation came to another person and you’re attending as their guest.
So, the upshot of all this is that suppliers and public servants can celebrate the end of the year, provided:
- it’s not prohibited by their organisation’s gift and hospitality policy
- the public servants aren’t involved in tender evaluation or issuing licences or other activities impacting on the position of the supplier
- ideally, all attendees pay for themselves.
And it’s important for you to know, these rules also apply to contractors and temporary staff working in Victoria’s public service who are bound by the Code of Conduct.
(Image: iStock by Getty Images)