Belfast Telegraph

Memo sets out strict guidelines for civil servants' festive party

By Claire McNeilly

'Tis the season to be jolly - and they could do with some of that up at Stormont after the year they've had.

But workers at the seat of government have been warned not to overdo the Christmas festivities and urged to behave themselves at their office parties.

An internal memo, leaked to this newspaper, sets out a number of guidelines that should be observed when it comes to general behaviour, social media and the consumption of alcohol.

"With the festive season fast approaching and plans for a variety of social events well underway, we would like to take this opportunity to remind you of the need to maintain high standards of behaviour and conduct at Christmas parties and seasonal social events, whether they are held on official premises or outside the workplace," it states.

"In line with the NICS Dignity at Work policy, work-related social events are considered, under the law, as a continuation of the workplace.

"You should therefore be aware that inappropriate behaviour occurring at social events such as Christmas parties, or gatherings after work, can constitute unlawful discrimination, harassment or bullying in the same way as if it had occurred in the workplace."

The memo issues a particularly stern warning over the potential use of social media by civil servants during the planned festivities.

"You are additionally reminded of the standards of behaviour expected in the use of electronic communications which also extends to the content of posts on social media," the memo sets out.

"You should not make disparaging, discriminatory or defamatory remarks about colleagues or post photographs of them without their consent.

"We would also like to take this opportunity to remind you of the rules which apply to the provision and acceptance of gifts and hospitality by civil servants that are set out in the NICS Standards of Conduct policy.

"You should seek direction from your Head of Branch in any situation that does not appear to be covered by the guidance. His/her advice should also be sought when in doubt about the interpretation of the guidance."

And the memo also includes a reminder to civil servants to never drink and drive.

"Staff should also be mindful of the key road safety message - Never EVER Drink and Drive - especially at this time of the year," the memo states.

But it's not all warnings and wagging fingers because the bosses added that they still want the workforce to have a great time.

"While this is a serious message for all staff, we do hope that you will enjoy the celebrations," states the memo, signed off by Northern Ireland Civil Service Human Resources (NICSHR). "We wish you a very happy and safe Christmas and a peaceful New Year." A NICSHR spokesman stood over the memo when approached.

"We can confirm that an email was issued to all staff across the NICS from NICSHR in line with practice in previous years. Under the NICS Dignity at Work policy, work-related social events are considered, under the law, as a continuation of the workplace," he said.

Workplaces, managers and business owners have become more vigilant in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which opened the floodgates to an array of other sexual harassment allegations.

The NICS advice comes as the BBC continues to screen popular new television drama Love, Lies and Records, which throws into sharp focus the disastrous consequences of an illicit Christmas party encounter between two civil servants.

It all kicks off when Ashley Jensen, who plays registrar Kate in the six-part series, is blackmailed by a disgruntled colleague who finds CCTV footage of Kate and a male co-worker in a feisty storeroom clinch.

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