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Human Law Mediation Ezine: December 2008

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How to avoid conflict this Christmas

The festive season is upon us, and it should be a time of peace and goodwill, but if you are not careful it can also be the time of significant conflict – at home and at work.

In this month’s ezine we have a few simple suggestions for how you can avoid conflict this Christmas.

Beware of the Christmas party
A poll of 3,533 managers by legal survey specialist Peninsula found that 83% of those questioned said this year's Christmas party had been cancelled because it costs too much and bosses fear worker litigation claims.

More than nine out 10 respondents (93%) cited cost as the prime reason for not organising a party, while 78% of employers said that Christmas parties led to arguments and conflict among members of staff on the night.

Less than one in four (23%) bosses said they had trouble-free parties, free of conflict, arguments, tension and harassment.

Employers had to remember that they could be held responsible for what happens at workplace parties even if they are held outside of normal working hours.

89% of employers said that someone makes a harassment complaint after the Christmas party and 64% of employers have dismissed someone because of their antics at the company Christmas party.

77% of bosses claimed that drunken employees approach them to speak their mind only to be faced with apologies from the employee on a Monday morning for their drunken outburst.

We think this is a rather sad state of affairs that the office party should now be going out to fashion. After all not only is the Christmas party a great source of fun but also of gossip as well.

If you are organising the office party be careful about providing a free bar.

In one case, three employees of the Whitbread Beer Company got drunk and had a fight after a seminar on improving behavioural skills. They successfully argued that their resulting dismissals were unfair. A relevant factor was the free bar.

Don’t do mistletoe
Your staff policies on bullying, harassment and discrimination still apply at the office party. Just make sure everyone knows this and knows what they are.

This is one reason why mistletoe is dangerous. A survey reported by ContractorUK found that, while 80% of women would laugh off a pass made by a male co-worker, boss or client, 13% would lodge a complaint.

An extreme example of such misbehaviour involved a man telling a female colleague that she "needed a good man," adding that he would like to try her out in bed. At the Christmas party, the man pulled her dress down and made disparaging comments. A claim of sexual harassment succeeded and an award of £10,000 was made for injury to feelings.

The laws on discrimination apply at the office party regardless of location. So when one man made sexual advances to a female colleague at an after-work leaving event taking place in a local pub, the tribunal had little difficulty in ruling that it was in the course of employment and therefore discriminatory.

Employers can find that they end up paying for unwanted advances between co-workers if tribunals characterise the behaviour as evidence of a culture of victimisation or harassment.

Don’t expect too much
The significant build up to Christmas is great, until that is your expectations of a fun time with friends and family all come crashing down around you.

Christmas is traditionally the time of year when families get together to eat, drink and be merry.

But for some, it is a highly stressful period when relationships are stretched to their limits.

The British Psychological Society has released a report proving that it's daughter-in-laws that come off worse. This is due to unrealistic expectations put on her by her husband's mother.

Be careful around the family
We can choose our friends but we cannot choose our relatives and Christmas spent too much in each other’s company can be explosive.

Last year an American teenager was charged with slashing his father with a knife after an argument about the family Christmas tree.

Justin Dwayne Fowler, 18, was charged with one count of felony aggravated assault, one misdemeanour count each of simple assault and recklessly endangering another person and one summary count each of criminal mischief and disorderly conduct in relation to an incident that occurred at his house shortly after Christmas Day

According to an affidavit of probable cause Mr. Fowler became violent after his father, Patrick, told him to stop taking down the Christmas tree.

Don’t mess with Santa Clause
In, Virginia, United States there was a Santa Claus. He was making $175 an hour greeting children at Tysons Corner Center before he was suddenly fired.

He did what any self-respecting 21st-century Santa would do; he instructed a lawyer and hired a public relations firm to mount a campaign to get his job back.

In an attempt to keep his lucrative 18-year job, veteran Santa Clause Michael Graham hired a lawyer, Pamela Deese of Arent Fox in the District, and a public relations firm, Brotman Winter Fried Communications of Falls Church.

Mr. Graham, who in real life is a carpenter from Tennessee, thinks Tysons Corner shoppers have a lot to lose from this personnel change.

Next Month
We’ll be back with the slightly more serious side of business, employee and commercial conflict next month. In the meantime – have a conflict free festive season.

Human Law Mediation works with HR professionals and managers on both pre and post-legal mediations. Contact Justin Patten today if you need help in deciding when and how to use mediation to resolve your workplace conflicts.

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