It’s that time of year again; Christmas is quickly approaching, and numerous organisations all throughout the nation will be hosting events to honour this wonderful and festive season. Employees might misbehave at Christmas parties, or not show up the following day. Concerns about holidays and overtime are also common. Requests for annual leave may be grouped together on the same days, and overtime policies may interfere with employees’ personal schedules.
As a result, Clarkslegal has put together twelve unique employment law insights below that can assist employers in handling HR issues associated with Christmas.
1. Annual Leave: Employees insist on taking holiday over Christmas
On the first day of Christmas, HR said to me “how much, if any, Christmas holiday should we give each employee?”
Unless it is specified in the employee’s holiday entitlement in their contract, employers are not obligated to give their employees time off on a bank or public holiday or at Christmas. This is the same for full-time and part-time employees. Employers should check the individual’s employment contract and encourage employees to arrange their holiday dates as early as possible.
2. Annual Leave: Employees refuse to work overtime over Christmas
On the second day of Christmas, HR said to me “our staff are refusing to work overtime over Christmas, can we give them a disciplinary?”
Christmas can be an extremely busy time for employers. They will be looking to their employees in the hope of an “all hands on deck” attitude. This occasionally may include requesting that workers put in extra hours at short notice. But what should you do if your employee refuses to work the overtime?
In most cases, it is fair to take disciplinary action against an employee who refuses to work overtime if required under the terms of their employment contract. In Edwards v Bramble Foods Ltd, the tribunal held that an employer had fairly dismissed an employee because of his protests to work overtime and threats to disrupt the business. The employer’s conduct was said to fall within the “range of reasonable responses,” particularly considering the possibility that the company might have faced further problems had the employee not been dismissed. Companies should make sure they follow a fair process though, and fairly inform the employee of the risks of his actions before jumping straight to disciplinary action.
3. Annual Leave: The office is closed over the Christmas period
On the third day of Christmas, HR said to me “our business is closed over Christmas, can we compel our staff to take annual leave?”
If there is no agreement that prohibits it, employers are free to set a specific time for annual leave. ACAS advises employers to notify employees at least twice as many days in advance as the number of days the employee needs to take off.
4. Sick Leave: Follow the company’s sick leave policy and requests for sick certificates
On the fourth day of Christmas, HR said to me “a staff member called in sick, but they went and bought a Christmas tree.”
Employers should notify staff in advance that their sick leave policy will continue to be in effect over the Christmas period. The amount of dishonest sick leave taken by employees should be considerably decreased by having a well-written absence policy that outlines expectations for staff and shows a readiness to enforce it when needed. In order to identify any underlying issues and take relevant action, businesses should monitor employee attendance.
5. Christmas Period: Be mindful of health, safety and wellbeing of employees
On the fifth day of Christmas, HR said to me “one staff member has significantly reduced her output this month, it’s coming up to Christmas, is she just being lazy?”
For a variety of professional and personal reasons, including the rising expense of living, many people find that Christmas is a stressful and anxious time. Employers have a “duty of care” to take all reasonable steps to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their staff. Employers should ensure that their employees have a safe working environment, protect their staff from discrimination, and carry out risk assessments. They should take special consideration of staff they know may be finding this time of year particularly difficult. Employers should inform staff members about the mental and physical resources offered by the company.
6. Christmas Events: Have Diversity, Equality & Inclusion in mind when planning festive events
On the sixth day of Christmas, HR said to me “how do I plan a festive event that satisfies the needs of everybody?”
It is important to bear in mind that not everyone celebrates Christmas. This could be for personal, religious, ethnic or cultural reasons. In the worst case scenario, an employer could act in a way that amounts to unlawful discrimination. In order to protect themselves from future claims of direct or indirect discrimination, employers should make sure celebrations are appropriate and considerate.
7. Christmas Events: Have a policy for employee conduct at work-related events
On the seventh day of Christmas, HR said to me “how do I deter employees from a drinking spree.”
The office party may be a double-edged sword: although it can be a chance to celebrate a good year and raise spirits, it can also be a chaotic gathering of employees who are letting their hair down, which increases the risk of mishaps, injuries, threats, and legal claims. Under the Equality Act of 2010, employers can be held accountable for any acts of victimisation, harassment, or discrimination committed by their staff members in the course of their employment, unless they can demonstrate they took all reasonable steps to prevent such acts.
HR are likely to feel the pressure at the thought of any repercussions from the party. Therefore, it is essential to have in place a robust policy that relates to employees’ behaviour at work-related events.
8. Christmas Events: Disclaimer for bad behaviour
On the eighth day of Christmas, HR said to me: “should we issue a warning for inappropriate behaviour? Last year two employees were kissing under the mistletoe tree.”
The answer is yes. It is important to ensure that employees are aware, before the event, of their employer’s policies regarding Christmas parties and other social gatherings connected to business. Prior to the party, sending a short email drawing attention to the conduct policy may seem inconsistent with the festive spirit, but it is imperative that workers understand that business standards relating to conduct still apply in social situations and during the Christmas party.
This statement might serve as a reminder to staff members of conduct issues, such as the risks associated with excessive alcohol use and actions that might be perceived as harassment.
9. Christmas Events: Reiterate social media policies
On the ninth day of Christmas, HR said to me: “the company has lost clients because of a foolish video from the Christmas party.”
Encourage staff to use caution when posting anything on social media both during and after work-related events. An inappropriate photo could damage company reputation. Employers should revisit and refresh social media policies and privacy notices to prevent potentially damaging content. It is also sensible to remind employees about this policy ahead of any events.
10. Whistleblowing: Be mindful of disclosures of wrongdoing
On the ninth day of Christmas, HR said to me: “an employee complained to me about a director’s behaviour towards her at the Christmas party – I have now made her redundant. He was only being friendly.”
It is important to be mindful for any concerns disclosed that could amount to whistleblowing claims. Claims from workers who suffered detriment as a result of whistleblowing disclosures are becoming more common, and if successful, settlements can be substantial.
For more on whistleblowing, please see our latest whistleblowing article here.
11. Christmas Gifts: A client has gifted an expensive gift to an employee
On the eleventh day of Christmas, HR said to me: “for Christmas, one of our clients has gifted an employee an Audi A3.”
Employees in official capacities are prohibited from accepting gifts or considerations as inducements or rewards under the Bribery Act of 2010 for doing or not doing anything, or showing favour or disfavour to any person. It could be construed that accepting expensive gifts might affect the working relationship. Therefore, it is important to remind all staff members of the guidelines on taking presents from clients. For instance, all gifts should be recorded in a register, and no presents over a specific amount should be accepted without manager’s prior approval. All employers should have effective anti-bribery policies in place, and provide training to employees regularly on these policies.
12. Christmas Bonus: Discretionary bonus
On the twelfth day of Christmas, HR said to me: “should we give a Christmas bonus to each employee?”
Pay is a delicate topic in the workplace generally, and this is especially true during the notoriously pricey Christmas season. A Christmas bonus can boost morale, employee engagement, and attract the best talent for a specific position. Employers should review the terms of the employment contract and employee handbook (if there is one) to see whether there is a contractual obligation to pay a bonus. If there is, then not paying a Christmas bonus could result in a claim against the company. Otherwise any bonus is at the discretion of the company.
In conclusion, it is critical that employers keep policies and procedures front of mind throughout the Christmas season. Everyone should be able to enjoy Christmas, so let’s not let issues that may occur in the workplace ruin the festive time of year.
For more advice on Christmas bonuses, gifts, parties, sickness or holiday, please contact a member of our employment team.