I'm not really. There is no PC brigade. Of course, that would suggest that this Daily Mail article 'Bah humbug! Now PC brigade target Christmas office party' is disingenuous toss, which is handy because it is. This time, there's a source that shows exactly how much the Mail has exaggerated and added to make it sound worse than it is, at the ACAS website. Again, I'm having an attack of is-this-really-the-most-important-thing-happening-in-the-world syndrome, as this is the front page headline.
First off, opening paragraph:
Office Christmas parties face the axe after the Government's industrial relations watchdog warned bosses they face being sued for a raft of "politically correct" misdemeanours.No they don't. ACAS don't say anything about axing anything or being sued. They talk about doing things to ensure companies avoid trouble. In fact, their site says:
By thinking about potential problems now and preparing, companies can help make it a happy Christmas for managers and staff and minimise the risk of employment tribunal claims. Acas' helpline gets hundreds of calls every Christmas from organisations with problems – here are some we prepared earlier.Anything about not having a Christmas party there, or just advice to help avoid problems? It's worth starting off by pointing out that ACAS can't stop anyone from making claims. It can only say to companies 'do this, and nobody will be able to complain'. It says nothing about how reasonable any claims are. But we're clearly on to a Daily Mail classic from the start.
It's such a classic that the nonsense continues straight away in the second paragraph. Hurrah!:
In an extraordinary advice pamphlet, Acas told firms they have a "duty of care" to drunken staff and could face crippling legal action if they do not get home safely.The article really says:
Q. What if an employee who has clearly drunk too much at the office Christmas party is planning to drive home. It's not my responsibility, is it?Now, I can see the 'duty of care' bit, but bugger all about crippling legal action. Remember, ACAS are saying 'do these and you're not likely to face claims'. Not 'do these or you'll be punished'.
A. In fact, it is. As an employer you have a 'duty of care' toward your employees and as it's the company's party, you need to take some responsibility. Think about travel arrangements and maybe end the party before public transport stops running. Or provide the phone numbers for local registered cab companies and encourage employees to use them. Hiring minibuses to take staff home is another option which would probably be greatly appreciated.
The fun continues in the next paragraph. As all three paragraphs so far are only one sentence in length, that's some bullshit every sentence. Great. There's more than one lump in this particularly fine sentence:
Managers were also told age discrimination laws could be breached if the music and entertainment caters only for younger staff, and holding a raffle or giving out alcoholic prizes could offend Muslims.Here's what ACAS really say about the 'age discrimination' bit:
Q. Our Christmas party has always been a rather quiet event. However, we took over another company this year and now have a majority of younger employees. They are used to more boisterous celebrations and I'm worried that age discrimination claims will be lodged – how can I make everyone happy?The question says something about age discrimination, not the answer. I won't bore you with the bit about this being a suggestion to avoid claims and not a threat of punishment. Ooh, I just did.
A. The key to any successful party is to put some thought into it. Try to ensure that there is a mix of music and that any organised entertainment takes account of all ages. What you end up with may not be to everyone's taste but you can always learn from it and canvass suggestions for next year!
Now - on to the bit about raffles and booze. Do a search in the ACAS document for the word 'Muslim'. Actually, don't bother. I already did and I can tell you it doesn't appear anywhere. Not once. The Mail are again using their tactic of blaming any kind of consideration for other people as an example of being told not to offend Muslims, which is fucking nasty when you think about it. The ACAS document actually says:
Q. We usually allow our social club to sell raffle tickets for prizes which are given out at the Christmas party – surely there's no problem with this?Notice the term 'some religions'. The term 'some' would include more than just Muslims. Also, the paper says that ACAS suggest that holding a raffle could offend Muslims. It doesn't. It says, 'no pressure should be exerted on staff who don't want to take part,' you shouldn't need me to tell you that not exerting pressure on people who don't want to take part is not the same as not holding a raffle at all because of Muslims.
A. Generally, no. However, some religions forbid gambling so no pressure should be exerted on staff who don't want to take part. It's also worth ensuring that the prizes on offer are not going to be unacceptable to those who do not drink alcohol or eat meat.
The paper also effortlessly flows its nonsense claim about offending Muslims into the next part of ACAS' answer, which mentions people who don't eat meat or drink booze, which would cover people who don't do these things for reasons other than religious ones. Notice how it leaves out altogether any mention of people who don't eat meat because that would make it too obvious that ACAS weren't specefically addressing Muslims.
The next sentence doesn't really exaggerate much, but you have to ask yourself why the Mail wants it to be okay to verbally abuse gay people in the pub. And why it puts the term 'verbal abuse' in scare quotes. Next:
And Acas, a Government quango charged with settling industrial disputes, added a "proper risk assessment" must be carried out before any decorations are put up, particularly if they could be fire hazards.*Sigh*. Such selective quoting just makes it so obvious that the paper has no intention of actually informing its readers of what ACAS actually said. Which was:
Staff were cleared to display trees, tinsel and lights - but only because they are "secular" and "not inherently religious".
This, the advice note says, makes it "difficult to argue that they cause offence to non-Christians".
Q. My recently-recruited manager has issued an email to staff telling them that Christmas decorations breach health and safety rules. She also said they are outlawed by the religion and belief regulations. Is she correct?In short, it said that Christmas decorations aren't a problem unless they breach health and safety. It doesn't say not to display religious decorations, it just says most aren't religious anyway. And imagine what the Mail would say if some employees were killed a fire at a Christmas party that had the fire exit blocked by a Christmas tree. Do you think they'd be telling the victims' families to shut up whining because it would have ruined Christmas to make sure the tree was in a safe place? I think perhaps not.
A. As long as a proper risk assessment is carried out looking at where and how decorations are sited, particularly if they could pose potential fire hazards, health and safety rules will not normally be breached. Regulations on religion and belief do not outlaw traditional customs. As most Christmas decorations such as tinsel, lights and trees are secular and not inherently religious, it could be difficult to argue that they cause offence to non-Christians.
The rest of the article is a bunch of reactions from people to the guidelines, although it's not clear whether the reactions are to the actual guidelines or the version the Mail has made up. There are some neat little tricks here, like:
Employment lawyers said they would also think twice about going ahead with a celebration, given the Acas warning.What Employment Lawyers? We have no idea who they are, what they are reacting to, or if they even exist. Later, one Employment Lawyer is quoted:
Sarah Cleary, a regulatory lawyer at Irwin Mitchell solicitors, said there was a real risk to employers of legal action in front of an employment tribunal, which has the power to award damages worth hundreds of thousands of pounds in some cases.Which is not really the same is it? The scenario she gives is far more extreme than the Mail's, and the bit about thinking twice appears to be her doing a funny. The term 'would put anyone off' is usually used to joke, like saying 'Bella Emberg would put anyone off women'. It's a way to exaggerate for a laugh. Nobody who says looking at Bella Eberg had put them off women really actually means they'd never have sex with another woman again. Ditto here, probably.
"If there was no formal and proper supervision, and free alcohol was available to particularly the younger staff and someone got injured or seriously ill then there could potentially be a claim against the firm for personal injury and or a breach of Health and Safety regulations."
She added: "I think the ACAS suggestions are scary really and would put anyone off having an office party."
There's then the reaction of Matt Hardman, which -like the rest of this article - effortlessy turns the aim of the document on its head. It's clear that the document is a set of tips to make sure companies avoid trouble. That's all. The question and answer format make this clear. It isn't a set of diktats that says 'you will definitely be in trouble if you fail to do this', but Matt Hardman seems to suggest that it does. remember, if companies are scrapping their Christmas parties for fear of complaints and claims, that's the fault of the people complaining, not ACAS for pointing out how to avoid people complaining.
One part of the Mail article:
Acas's warning said managers would be in "hot water" if drunken staff do not get home safely.Here, the paper is pretty clearly not telling the truth. ACAS did not use the term it pretends they did in conjunction with getting home safely. The term 'hot water' doesn't appear in the ACAS document, and the quote is clearly from the ACAS spokesman saying:
Many organisations find themselves in hot water over the Christmas season where seemingly harmless pranks or party ideas result in damages or tribunal claims.See - seemingly harmless pranks and party ideas. Not drunken staff getting home safely.
Scenarios could include stumbling out of the party drunk and falling over in the street, or getting knocked down.The ACAS page does not mention these scenarios at all. The Mail has made them up. The guidelines only talk about making sure all staff have the facilities to get home either by making sure the party ends on time for public transport or by giving them cab numbers or providing buses. Not a dicky-bird about falling over. The important thing is the Mail's use of the word 'could'. The Mail gives the impression that ACAS have included that scenario with the use of the word 'could', but what the paper actually means is that because it isn't mentioned, it might be something ACAS are referring to. Clever that, eh? See, scenarios 'could' include getting caught in a zombie attack as well, but it's not bloody likely that ACAS means to include that by not mentioning it.
I can't really be arsed to go through the rest point by point. It's enough to say that the paper has misrepresented the content of the ACAS guidelines, and misrepresented their intent. Clearly, they're there to say words to the effect of 'Some companies get in trouble with tribunals and stuff after their Christmas parties, but you'll be alright if you do this.' The Mail makes it sound like they're saying 'do this or we'll punish you'. Which is par for the course for the Mail.
At least it's possible to see the document the paper is misrepresenting this time, so you know why I get all suspicious when it's not. The paper doesn't link to the ACAS document though, but has its own distorted version of it instead, in 'ACAS dos and don'ts for the office Christmas party' which I will go through because it's fucking easy. Here's what it says ACAS say:
DON'T: Attempt to sell raffle tickets to Muslims because Islam forbids gambling.False. ACAS says don't pressure people to buy raffle tickets if they don't want to. Not don't attempt. And it doesn't mention Muslims. Next:
DON'T: Give meat or alcohol as prizes in case they offend.False. It says 'it's worth ensuring' that there are no meat or alcolhol prizes as some people might not consume them. Be fair, it would be a bit shit if you were an alcoholic who couldn't drink and you won a big fuck off bottle of absinthe or something. Next:
DON'T: Let staff who have been drinking drive home.True. But presumably, the Mail would rather companies allowed people to drive drunk and wouldn't talk about any 'fury' about any companies whose employees did so and went on to maim and kill. Or maybe they would. Next:
DON'T: Let staff make remarks about 'being gay' in the pub before the party.False. ACAS says 'Make sure the company has policies in place on bullying and harassment and discrimination and that everyone knows what they are and what the penalties are for ignoring them.' In other words, if the staff know this and go on to abuse people for being gay - I'll say that again - abuse people for being gay - rather than just mention it, then the company isn't liable. Next:
DO: Carry out a "proper risk assessment" before putting up decorations.True. I won't repeat myself about the fire scenario, but you can reread it if you like. I'm not stopping you. Next:
DO: Ensure staff have taxi numbers, or put on a bus to take all drunken staff home.True. Sort of. It leaves out the bit about finishing in time to be able to get public transport. Seriously, how difficult is it to dot taxi numbers about the place and leave some cards behing the bar? Anyone would think ACAS are demanding that the directors force their kids to take drunken staff home in rickshaws while being whipped. Next:
DO: Finish the party while public transport is still running.Oh. Clever. They didn't forget the bit about public transport. They just put it in as a separate point so they can pretend ACAS said to do those other things as well as finishing early rather than instead of finishing early. Which is me arse. The clue that they mean finish early or do the other things is the clever use of the word 'or'. Next:
DO: Make sure there is a mix of music to avoid age discrimination claims.Lie. Sort of. It says to do that to make a good party. It says Sweet Fanny Adams about age discrimination claims in its answer to the hypothetical question. Like I said, ACAS can't stop people making claims - all it can do is say 'if you do this, nobody can complain'. They're not responsible for what people complain about.
I'm beginning to remember why I hate the Mail the most again. It must be nearly Christmas! Until we BAN CHRISTMAS and replace it with ONE-LEGGED-BLACK-LESBIAN DAY for MUSLIMS! MWUH HUH HUH HUH HA HA HAAAAAAH!