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The dangers of letting your hair down at your virtual online Christmas party

Experts are warning it could be a minefield for inappropriate party antics.
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The dangers of letting your hair down at your virtual online Christmas party

The dangers of letting your hair down at your virtual online Christmas party

8 December 2020

By Siobhann Provost

In 2020 the office Christmas party has a new look thanks to COVID-19 – the virtual Christmas party. Experts are warning it could be a minefield for inappropriate party antics, sexual misconduct and discrimination.
Maureen Kyne, human resources (HR) and workplace bullying expert, says end of year celebrations are notorious for inappropriate acts among bosses and employees. Moving the festivities online only adds to the potential risks.
Ms Kyne says workplace laws still apply at online Christmas gatherings organised by companies. “With the parties moving online thanks to video conference and camera phones, what happens at the office Christmas party no longer stays at the party – in fact, it could go viral,” said Ms Kyne.
“Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime, or any other video-calling interface strips down a level of privacy,” she said.
“These parties are likely to be happening at the kitchen table, the living room or in the bedroom and it leaves colleagues and family members exposed to ugly, drunken and abusive bad behaviour.”
“We haven’t seen anything like this before where most Christmas parties are held online so companies need to make sure they are equipped for any fallout.”
“Companies may save on cab vouchers and Uber fares this year, but employees behaving badly could cost you in legal action.”
Ms Kyne says online Christmas parties must adhere to normal social etiquette and workers need to respect their colleagues and the privacy of family members in their homes.
“Once the office party has ended, employees need to pause before deciding to create their own video call and continue. That second video call between two colleagues may result in a messy and unlawful situation.”
Ms Kyne says unacceptable and potentially unlawful behaviour includes:

  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • excessive bad and unsavoury language
  • non-employees crashing the party
  • family members being exposed to raunchy and drunken festive dancing
  • daredevil antics such as swimming nude and dancing on table tops and desks
  • conversations moving to impersonal chatter that would not normally be discussed in person
  • exchanging inappropriate photos over the video party

Tips for a safe and successful virtual Christmas party

Workplace rules

When employers are hosting their office Christmas party online it is still within the workplace environment and workplace HR rules still apply such as responsible consumption of alcohol, appropriate language, behaviour and dress attire. Gifts exchanged must also be work appropriate.

Risk assessment

Take into consideration the family home, number of attendees, alcohol and ensure non-employees are not in attendance.

Workplace contract

Companies should issue a written reminder to their employees that their behaviour over a video calling interface falls within their contract and the workplace policies on sexual harassment, anti-discrimination and workplace health and safety rules still apply.  Too much Christmas cheer is grounds for disciplinary action.

Alcohol and drug policy

Remind employees of the company’s drug and alcohol policy.

Electronic recordings

Employees need to remember that this year’s Christmas party like many of their workplace meetings during COVID is an electronic video call so the Santa hats, reindeer ears, swapping gifts, eating and drinking and playing games all happen in the comfort of their own home but abusive, drunken and inappropriate behaviour will also be captured.

Privacy settings

If they haven’t already, companies need to ensure their online party is secure, it has a meeting ID and is not hosted on a public channel shared over the internet via URLs making them susceptible to zoom bombing. Zoom bombing is a form of trolling and leaves companies open to uninvited Christmas guests sharing inappropriate imagery.

Strict start and end time

Employers need to clearly communicate the start and end time of Christmas party and explain that once the video call is ended, it’s also the end of the party and ‘time to go home’.
“While the online office Christmas party can be great for team morale purposes especially after COVID, there is also a greater risk that people will want to break out, let their hair down and this may behaviour has a propensity to spiral out of control at the online Christmas party," said Maureen.
“Alcohol can change people's personalities and simmering workplace disputes can spill over and it is more difficult for bosses and employees to intervene online.”
“Employers need to treat Christmas parties like workplaces.”

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