Every retailer, garden centre, business, club or event organiser that recruits a Father Christmas is in danger of breaking recruitment and employment discrimination laws and facing potentially unlimited financial penalties, it has been claimed.

That's the risk if the letter of the law is adhered to – because the job description for the age-old role of Santa is one of the very few that actually breaks every single rule in the recruitment book.

"Tradition is being trashed, and sometimes the inflexibility of recruitment and health and safety laws are contributing to the cancellation of some parts of Christmas," said Jonathan Whittaker, employment partner at law firm SAS Daniels.

"A typical advertisement for Father Christmas really has little option but to include a variation upon 'The Grotto has a vacancy for a fat, white, fit, heterosexual old bloke of Nordic descent, with a Christian background, a lot of facial hair, no disabilities (climbing, abseiling, animal handling and flying at hyper-sonic speeds are essential requirements) who isn't a member of a union that's going to insist on reasonable working hours and good conditions – thereby possibly ruining somebody's Christmas'.

"I can see a ridiculous row developing one day – who'd have thought that local authorities would have Christmas lights switch-ons without mentioning Christmas for fear they might cause offence on religious grounds, or schools could not give their Christmas pantomimes the correct title because of copyrights held by American corporations? What's next?

"While the new recruitment and discrimination laws are seen largely as a step forward, this is a clear indication of how their inflexibility does not work in some circumstances – and could genuinely cause Christmas to be cancelled.

"The only element of the employment discrimination laws that really does provide for a recruitment ad for a Father Christmas is sex discrimination.

"It states that in certain limited circumstances it is lawful to discriminate in recruitment, training, promotion and transfer in a job for which the sex of the worker is a genuine occupational qualification.

"Section 7 of the Sex Discrimination Act provides an exception to the requirements of the Act and allows a job to be restricted to one sex where the sex of the worker is a genuine occupational qualification.

"A genuine occupational qualification exists when the essential nature of the job, or particular duties attached to the job, call for a member of one sex – when circumstances, role or location mean only one gender can be considered. The SDA was amended in 1986 to include small businesses with five or fewer employees and partnerships with less than six partners, so unless you're a self-appointed freelance Santa you could be facing severe recruitment red tape."