In order to preserve my sanity while braving the metro traffic, I tuned into a local radio station on my way to work last week and landed slap bang in the middle of a rather topical and almost always controversial issue, namely the office Christmas party.
Listeners were asked to air their views and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the outrageously pompous entitlement that ran through most calls and text messages like Latin through law.
If the participants could be seen as representative of the region’s employees, it became apparent – faster than the taxi that swerved in front of me in Rink Street – that for the Eastern Cape workforce, office Christmas parties might as well have been included in the Bill of Human Rights.
It doesn’t take a legal eagle to know that the office party, per se, enjoys absolutely no protection under the law – even if it often crops up as the backdrop to sexual harassment cases.
But, if deemed by the toothless masses as an incentive to a job well done or a right relating to employment, it becomes – at the very least – a labour issue. The word “issue” is used in the most non-legal context possible.
So, while I was waiting for the light to turn green – for the third time – the populace were exercising their right to freedom of speech.
Some said they would only attend an office party if spouses and/or partners were also invited, while others preferred to go it solo.
Some wanted the whole thing to be canned and the money to be added to their 13th cheque. Others wanted to be given time off instead of having a party.
By that time my mind was reeling – and not only due to the fact that someone took possession of my favourite off-street parking spot.
How did these opinionated (though not necessarily educated) people arrive at the point where it was possible to even suggest that something that was never a right and always a privilege, all of a sudden had to be granted – in whatever shape or form?
Back at the office a colleague – who had also tuned in to the on-air debate – and I took the argument a step further. He was for and I, against.
So what do you do with workers who don’t celebrate Christmas, I asked wilfully. No problem, he hit back, then you simply call it a year-end function.
But what if the company doesn’t close down over the holiday season and there is no “end” to celebrate, I persisted.
Many people feel that an office Christmas party is a gesture of thanks for a job well done, but the question arising from this is, aren’t people paid to do their jobs well in any case?
A more cynical colleague suggested that, in addition to a pay check, a pat on the back and ruffling someone’s hair while saying “well done” should suffice as recognition.
After all has been said and done, it boggles my mind that an employer’s right – he actually has one – to not host a year-end function may very well be the catalyst for a slow-strike.
So, if you will be attending an office party of any nature in the near future – with or without a partner – remember to be grateful for the privilege.
Send your labour and other workplace related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wikus van Rensburg is a well-respected labour law attorney in Port Elizabeth in Nelson Mandela Bay.
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