Here are a few suggestions on how to keep the busy holiday season a safe and enjoyable one at your workplace.
1. Keep employees safe from violence:
Risk factors that increase the likelihood of workplace violence include working during times of increased levels of stress and the presence of alcohol. The frantic pace of the holiday season, particularly for those dealing with the public, and the common practice of serving alcohol at holiday parties certainly meets the criteria.
As per Bill 168 (Ontario’s workplace violence & harassment legislation), employers have an obligation to take explicit actions to reduce the risk of violence and harassment against their workers. This can include hiring additional staff for the holidays, having managers or security guards ensure that interactions do not escalate, and finding ways to reduce stress for your employees. Concrete plans on how to curb excessive alcohol consumption during holiday parties is also important.
Bill 168 also makes employers liable if they fail to prevent domestic violence from impacting the workplace (which includes workplace events like a holiday party). If you suspect domestic violence or know of a history of spousal violence, it might be necessary to prevent that individual from attending. Due to the delicate nature of this issue, we recommend getting legal advice before taking action.
2. Keep your party a positive experience for all:
Health & safety issues:
- Provide transportation for your employees or arrange for designated drivers if you are serving alcohol at an office party
- Ensure you provide ample food to help mitigate the impact of alcohol and that you serve options that meet the various dietary needs of your employees (include vegetarian, kosher, and non-gluten options)
- Set a clear start and finish time to the holiday party and designate a supervisor for the event to make sure things go smoothly
HR issues to consider:
- Ensure that every employee is invited (you don’t want to leave anyone out). Remember that not everyone in the company has a working company email address. Remember any co-op students or interns. Remember those who work out of a different location or home office. Remember those on sick leave or maternity leave.
- Be sure that everyone understands that attendance is not compulsory – you may have employees who do not celebrate Christmas or who have childcare needs or other issues preventing them from attending.
- Book your event at a location that is accessible for people with disabilities or mobility issues.
- Prior to the event, advising all employees that the holiday party is a work event and that they are expected to conduct themselves as they would in the workplace.
- Ensure there is a complaints process for any issues that may arise after the party and follow-up on any incidences that may have occurred, however minor they may seem.
- Advise managers not to discuss career potential or remuneration with employees at the holiday party, as words of encouragement and good intentions may end up being misinterpreted.
- Be wary of employees posting embarrassing or disparaging photos on social media, particularly if they are identifying the company name in their posts.
- Be respectful of the beliefs of non-Christians.
3. Keep it real with secret Santa:
Exchanging gifts or having a “Secret Santa” in the workplace can be seen as a bit of fun. But some staff members might take advantage of the anonymous nature of the exchange and give inappropriate or even offensive gifts to their colleagues.
Organizers of the gift exchange must ensure participants are aware that Secret Santa falls under your company’s HR existing policies and that anyone selecting a gift that might cause offense or be construed as bullying or harassment will face consequences.
4. Keep holiday scheduling fair:
Some businesses close their doors for a company-wide break during the holidays. But if your company is open for business during the holiday period, determining which employees are required to work can be a tricky process.
When ensuring you have adequate coverage for their customers, employers should select employees to work during this period based on the business needs of the employer and should be in a position to objectively justify their selection of employees. Employers should be mindful not to target employees that do not have children or do not celebrate Christmas. Allowing employees to volunteer to work or setting up a rotating schedule are other strategies you may deploy to keep things fair.
5. Keep the “decking of the halls” safe:
Putting up Christmas decorations can be a fun and festive way to celebrate the season at your workplace. However, it doesn’t make you a Scrooge to insist that employees take all the necessary safety precautions when putting up those decorations. The people assigned to do the decorating might not be familiar with the requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), so it’s your job as the employer to enforce them.
Having someone injured or putting in a WSIB claim is not the way you want to start the holidays! Take precautions such as providing staff with suitable step ladders to put up decorations, making sure that Christmas trees are not blocking fire escape routes or exits, and checking any novelty lighting for defects.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, and Season’s Greetings everyone!
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