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12 tips of Christmas

09 December 2015

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. It is the season of perpetual hope and goodwill to all men and women, when spirits are high, and calorie consumption is even higher. All in all, it’s a joyous time of year relished by many.

The season to be jolly can also bring with it many a headache (whether alcohol related or not) for employers, so we have put together 12 tips of Christmas to help ease you through the festive period, without a bah-humbug in sight.

In the run up to Christmas we will share one tip a day:

First tip of Christmas

Christmas parties – planning prevents problems

Many companies plan Christmas parties for their staff to thank and reward them for their hard work throughout the year. Whilst this is an opportunity for everyone to relax and let their hair down, it is important to remember that employers can be liable for the conduct of their employees. It is therefore sensible to remind your employees that the Christmas party is a work event and of the standards of conduct expected of them. Point them to your internal policies regarding behaviour such as ‘dignity at work’, ‘anti-bullying and harassment’ and the use of ’social media’.

Whilst these measures may seem a little Scrooge-esque, they will help prevent any inappropriate behaviour. If despite your instructions an employee does misbehave, you will then be justified in taking disciplinary action.

Second tip of Christmas

Christmas parties – post party problems, bad behaviour 

As mentioned in our first tip, employers can be liable for the conduct of their employees at the Christmas party, so it is important to investigate any reports of inappropriate behaviour thoroughly, and as soon as possible.

If an employee complains that a colleague’s behaviour was inappropriate, ensure that you follow your grievance procedure, and if necessary, start disciplinary proceedings.

If someone outside of the organisation complains about one of your employees, you should still consider a disciplinary investigation.

Be sure to follow your disciplinary procedure. In cases of serious allegations, such as sexual harassment or violence, you should consider suspending the employee pending the outcome of the investigation.

Third tip of Christmas

Christmas parties –  post party problems, the inevitable hangovers

It is a truth universally acknowledged that employees who consume too much alcohol at the Christmas party will be in possession of a hangover the following day. Whilst for many, two paracetamol, a pint of water and a black coffee will usually alleviate the hangover demons, this is not always the case, which could lead to problems at work.

Employers are obliged to provide a safe place of work. If employees have to operate machinery, drive vehicles or undertake any other ‘dangerous’ or ‘high risk’ activities the morning after the Christmas party, the health and safety of that employee and other people could be put at risk. It is therefore important that employers are aware of this potential issue and, as a precaution, remind staff that they should not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs at work.

If an employer suspects that an employee is working under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they should:

  • stop the employee
  • ask that employee to take an alcohol/drugs test in accordance with company policy
  • consider starting disciplinary action.

Fourth tip of Christmas

‘Secret Santa’ or ‘Banter Claus’?

Secret Santa. Some see it as a way of ensuring that all colleagues receive a gift at Christmas. Others see it as an opportunity to play ‘Banter Claus’ and take the opportunity to embarrass colleagues. Obviously, it’s supposed to be a bit of fun, but where do you draw the line between ‘banter’ and ‘bullying’? When does humour become harassment?

Employers should take a common sense approach to Secret Santa to prevent any problems. Remind employees that so called ‘banterous’ gifts may cause offence and be construed as bullying or harassment under company policy, which will be dealt with accordingly.

Fifth tip of Christmas

Snow day!

Who knew that two little words could cause so much chaos and excitement amongst adults?

Although most of us would love to enjoy the day building a snowman, and drinking a cup of hot chocolate in front of Home Alone 1 and 2 on a loop, life goes on and businesses still have to function. So what happens when staff cannot work due to the weather conditions?

  • There is no legal right for employees to be paid if they are unable to get to work due to travel disruption and/or adverse weather, unless there is a specific contractual right stating otherwise.
  • If the workplace is closed, employees are entitled to pay. This is on the basis that they should not be penalised if their employer cannot provide work. Of course, employers may require them to work from home or elsewhere, if practical.
  • Employees are entitled to unpaid leave to look after a dependant in an emergency. School closures and lack of childcare at the last minute are likely to be considered an emergency.
  • Employers may agree with employees that they may take annual leave, as opposed to unpaid leave.
  • If, historically, employers have paid staff for their absence on ‘snow days’ this may have created a contractual right to be paid, through custom and practice.

To avoid any doubt and to manage expectations, it would be advisable to have an ‘adverse weather’ policy in place, which details the pay and working arrangements in these circumstances.

Sixth tip of Christmas

Don’t forget – Not everyone celebrates Christmas

In the midst of organising the Christmas party, and putting up the tree in the workplace, it is easy to forget that not everyone celebrates Christmas. Employers should therefore take care not to discriminate against employees who do not celebrate Christmas.

This does not mean you should exclude those employees from Christmas based workplace activities and events. Equally, employers should not put any pressure on staff who do not celebrate Christmas, to attend or get involved in workplace Christmas activities. To do so may be discriminatory. Communication and a common sense approach is key in this situation.

Seventh tip of Christmas

Christmas working

Deciding who has to work over the Christmas period can sometimes be a contentious issue. Whilst it is a good idea to have some form of selection system in place, employers should be wary of the criteria used as they must be able to objectively justify their decisions and reasons for the treatment of staff.

If you intentionally choose staff on the basis that they do not have young children, or because they do not celebrate Christmas, this may be seen as discrimination on the basis of age, marital status, religion or belief.

In most cases, Christmas cover can be agreed between employees and employer, but, if not, employers should be careful not to be discriminatory.

Eighth tip of Christmas

Christmas workplace closure

Some employers will close down the business for a period of time over the festive period. If so, they are entitled to require employees to take annual leave during this time.

If staff are required to take annual leave at a particular time, they must be given the minimum statutory notice. This is twice the length of the annual leave that the employee is ordered to take. For example, if the business closes down for three days, the employer must give employees notice of the enforced annual leave at least six clear days in advance.

If it is routine to close over the festive period, it would be sensible to include provision in contracts of employment that require employees to set aside a certain number of days’ annual leave for the workplace closure period.

Ninth tip of Christmas

Christmas bonus – a right or a privilege?

Aside from the Christmas party, employers often reward their employees with a Christmas bonus. But what happens if the purse strings are a little tight one year? Or an employee’s performance hasn’t been up to scratch? Can employers refuse to pay a Christmas bonus, or are they obliged to pay it?

The answer is that if employers have routinely paid employees a Christmas bonus over a number of years, it could be argued that this has become an implied term of their contract through custom and practice. They should therefore be cautious when withholding a Christmas bonus or awarding bonuses at the same time and for the same value each year.

Tenth tip of Christmas

Corporate gifts

It is not uncommon for companies to send Christmas gifts to other businesses, customers or referrers etc. during the festive period. Whilst most of the time these gifts amount to an inexpensive hamper of minced pies and exotic chutneys which will never be opened, sometimes, corporate gifts go beyond this. What if a business is given or gives a substantial financial or other type of gift or hospitality? Are you allowed to accept it?

Giving gifts or providing hospitality is not unlawful in itself, but they may amount, either directly or indirectly, to bribery under the Bribery Act 2010, if they are given or received, with the intention of influencing people.

With the aim of preventing this, the Bribery Act 2010 requires all organisations to:

  • explicitly prohibit bribery in any form
  • commit to implementing anti-bribery systems

Employers should therefore implement an ‘anti-bribery policy’ and distribute it to all staff, and provide guidelines on the giving and receiving of gifts.

Eleventh tip of Christmas

Winter sports: Injuries and absence

Skiing, snowboarding and other winter sports have become increasingly popular in recent years. Unfortunately, extreme sports come with a high level of risk of serious injury which could see employees off sick from the workplace for significant amounts of time. Do employers have to pay for time off sick due to injury from extreme sports?

Many businesses provide enhanced contractual sick pay if employees are absent from work due to incapacity. Unless there is a specific exemption in the contract of employment or sickness absence policy, employers will be obliged to pay contractual sick pay for any sickness absence due to a winter sports injury.

If this is a concern, employers can include a clause in contracts of employment, which specifically makes clear that an employee who is absent due to an extreme sports injury is not entitled to enhanced contractual sick pay. Note that such a clause cannot be introduced into existing contracts without the employee’s prior agreement.

Twelfth tip of Christmas

Pantomime Willans?

We appreciate that by pointing out the negative aspects of the festive season, we may seem like the ‘Pantomime Willans’, however, it is important that employers are aware of potential problems and are armed ready to address any issues which arise.

Hopefully our employment team’s 12 tips of Christmas helped guard you against some of these common problems.

Have a safe and happy Christmas.

 

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Jenny Hawrot LLB (Hons)
Associate, solicitor
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