London, Dec. 10: Christmas is the period when people traditionally make absolute fools of themselves at the office party (by telling the boss what they really think of him, for example) ' and then wake up with regrets the morning after.
This is also the time when the office lech lunges at the nearest woman under the mistletoe ' and if the latter happens to be the boss, the consequences could be the sack.
With all this in mind, Britain's Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) got together today with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) to issue a list of dos and don'ts just as the office party season begins in earnest.
'It might be best to leave out the mistletoe ' and not just because the berries are poisonous,' suggest the guidelines. 'Cases of sexual harassment at parties are often attempted to be excused as 'a bit of fun' rather than a workplace issue. Case law suggests, though, that this is a very fine line.'
They warn: 'If a party is held at the employer's expense, and is clearly a works party, it's likely any harassment would be covered by sexual harassment at work rules. In any case, behaviour of this sort is unacceptable; particularly if people make it clear they don't like it. The excuse that 'everyone else was doing it' is no defence either. The fact that other people behaved unacceptably doesn't mean it's okay in each case. Some people may not object, but that does not make it unreasonable for others to do so.'
Does this mean that the office secretary will no longer be able to disappear behind the filing cabinet with the happily-married boss'
RoSPA spokesman Roger Vincent said today: 'We don't want to be party poopers but'.'
On the whole, it is best not to have the office party at the office, it seems.
'It's always safer to book your office bash at a hotel, bar or restaurant, where facilities are designed for people having a good time,' say the guidelines. 'But if like many workplaces you do end up hosting a Christmas do in the office, there are risks that people need to be aware of.'
It goes on: 'Use a stepladder to put up decorations. Never stand on a swivel chair, as it could send you spinning to the ground.'
It is not that the RoSPA always sees the dark side of things but it points out: 'Party balloons can cause severe reactions, potentially deadly, in people who are allergic to latex. Around 3.6 million people in Britain suffer from some degree of latex allergy.'
It also reveals: 'Over 1,000 people were injured by Christmas trees in 2002, so be careful when putting them up. Make sure they are secure, and won't be knocked by people passing by or pulling cables.'
Perhaps this is the TUC's politically correct input but, aware that Britain has over two million Hindus and Muslims, the guidelines remind people: 'Not everyone celebrates Christmas or New Year, and it can be pretty stressful to feel pressurised into celebrating something that may be against your beliefs or face cries of 'humbug', so a bit of sensitivity can go a long way.'
Actually, many Muslims are busy buying halal turkeys, while some Hindus offload unused Christmas cards saved from the previous year.
The RoSPA/TUC advice is for plenty of non-alcoholic drinks to be made available to staff. 'If you're going to be serving alcohol at the party, make sure you've read your company's alcohol policy if there is one. You may need to make sure you have personnel department or your manager's agreement if your policy prohibits alcohol at work.'
And finally: 'Keep a close eye on those who may drink too much ' alcohol makes some people aggressive rather than friendly. The party will be spoiled if it ends in a punch-up or harassment complaint.'
A postscript: 'Resist the temptation to photocopy parts of your anatomy ' if the copier breaks, you'll be spending Christmas with glass in some painful places.'
Well intentioned though it is, much of the advice is likely to be widely ignored.