Santa stared with scarcely-concealed loathing at the young barrister elf across the desk from him in the Tribunal room. Sharp suit, shiny shoes and a knot in his nasty nylon tie almost as big as his head. David Beckham had a lot to answer for, Santa thought grimly.
“Yes, Mr, er, Claus?” The Employment Judge’s prompting interrupted his thoughts. Yes what? His mind blank in an instant, Santa scrabbled in vain for the question he had been asked. God, it was hot in here. The relentless probing of the elfin representative was bad enough, but he did think suddenly that turning up to Tribunal fully red-suited and booted, fur trim, the works, had perhaps been a mistake. The hope that surely no-one could dislike Father Christmas had already withered under the baleful gaze of the Tribunal panel, especially after he had tried to enter the room via the chimney and brought down part of the ceiling. Indeed, they seemed to be having trouble enough just with his name.
“So why was the Christmas party abandoned at the last minute, Mr, er, Claus?” repeated the Judge. “Why did you wilfully dash the legitimate party expectations of your loyal workforce?” Something told Santa this was not going well.
Suddenly it all came back to him. In the run-up to 25th December Santa had received not only the usual millions of Christmas lists, but also around the same number again of fliers from law firms offering free seminars on how to enjoy the Christmas party safely. Conscious of the smirking ranks of Little Helpers packing the back of the Tribunal room, their eyes boring malevolently into him as he spoke, Santa told the Tribunal of the seminar he had attended. It had been an eye-opener. Everything he had assumed the Christmas do was about (drink, sausage rolls, those Frozen girls in Goods Inward) was either inadvisable or actively unlawful. What would be left was not a party at all in any sense he understood, but just some ghastly Chekhovian wake as MC’d by Voldemort. He had eaten all the canapés he could hold, pocketed all the free pens and left the lawyers’ offices a broken man.
That night, Santa told the Tribunal, he had slept badly, haunted by dreams. He had done what the lawyers had said, he thought, pointing out in advance some of the particular hazards of the evening. In hindsight, perhaps identifying the elves in question by name had not been wise, but it had still been well intended. In his fevered dreams it had all gone so horribly wrong. The food had been scorned as discriminatory because some of it was not vegetarian, because some of it was vegetarian, because it contained pork, dairy products or non-organic beef and because (Snow White had dropped by with some of her staff) it was on too high a table. The carol singers had been booed off stage as insufficiently inclusive of other religions. His karaoke selection of songs with actual tunes was shouted down as only fit for older people.
As he had tossed and turned fitfully, it had got worse. Opening a door in search of fresh air he had blundered instead into a cupboard. There had he found Barbie and Ken, years of suppressed longing finally cast aside, each stripped naked and staring aghast at the other’s lack of genitalia. Even months later in Tribunal, Barbie’s shrill screams still echoed in his ears. Fuelled by drink and noise, the Lego crowd had just gone to pieces and those Playmobil chaps had lost their heads altogether. Outside in the crisp Arctic air two Little Helpers being led away from the wreckage of the sleigh in novelty handcuffs shouted slurred abuse at him for letting them drive while under the influence of too many liqueur chocolates. It had been a bad night. No wonder that the very next day he had cancelled the Christmas party, Santa concluded limply. It was for their own good.
There was a moment’s silence. A solitary glass bauble flung from the back of the Tribunal room smashed at his feet. The barrister elf looked up briefly from its Candy Crush but offered no further questions. Pausing briefly to tinkle the bells in each others’ hats, the Tribunal panel conferred. Then the Employment Judge leant forward and Santa flinched, his mouth dry. This was it. This is what came of trying to protect the finer feelings of his employees. Wretched little ingrates, the lot of them. Done his best and now here he was, about to be strung up in red tape, pelted with mince pies and glitter and left to twist in the wind as a lesson to other employers. After this he would have to go back to the dayshift for the appearance money, being mauled by poisonous little proles in ghastly local shopping centres and trying not to think about Operation Yewtree. Santa reached into his mental stationery cupboard for some asterisks. B******s, he thought, b******s to the season of goodwill and everyone in it.
“Mr, er, Claus, we do find unanimously that you paid far more attention to the lawyers’ transparent attempts to drum up business than is at all proper for the time of year, and therefore that you are totally and utterly guilty of killing the Christmas Spirit. We also find, for reasons which we are not remotely able to explain, that you are at some stage almost bound to be in breach of the statutory Shared Parental Leave Regulations. As a result, it is our decision” – the Judge paused to place a black handkerchief on his head and continued – “our decision that you should be taken from here to a place of exec– “.
Suddenly a loud crack rang in Santa’s ear. He started, sitting bolt upright, covered in sweat and his heart pounding. The Tribunal room vanished before him and he was back in his grotto study, slumped in his armchair. The whole thing had just been a terrible nightmare. The charred remains of his Christmas tree crackled and popped in the grotto fireplace along with those unwanted One Direction calendars. It was all over, another Christmas survived. Santa relaxed, at peace for the first time in months.
A happy Festive Season from all on the Squire Patton Boggs Labour & Employment team.