As the John Lewis advert has rightly confirmed, Christmas is approaching and along with it comes company parties, bank holidays, religious festivals, and requests for time off work.
We’ve outlined the 10 most common issues employers face around this time of year and how you can prepare yourself for a fun, productive, and fair festive season.
- What should you do to prepare for the festive season?
Managers should familiarise themselves with the company’s policy on Christmas parties or work-related social events. Perhaps consider the option of issuing a statement to employees in advance of a Christmas party or similar work-related event if you’re worried conduct or attendance issues may arise as a result. This statement can remind employees of conduct matters, including the dangers of excess alcohol consumption, behaviours that could be viewed as harassment, and how the company handles poor time-keeping and absenteeism.
- Do I really need a policy on workplace social events and how do I implement one?
Yes, you should maintain a policy because you have a duty of care towards staff, and as a matter of good practice. The Equality Act 2010 makes employers liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation carried out by their employees in the course of employment which extends to social activities outside working hours, unless they can show that they took reasonable steps to prevent such acts. If not already included in your Employee Handbook, our HR team can help you develop and implement this policy as quickly as you need it.
- Am I responsible for what happens at a Christmas party?
It’s always good to assume that you will be liable should anything happen at an event organised by the company and attended by employees. Your policy on workplace social events will cover your Christmas party, just make sure everyone’s familiar with it. Have employees attend a quick policy reminder session so you can be sure all staff and managers are aware of what’s expected of them.
- Can employees be disciplined for misconduct after a Christmas party?
Yes, if the incident is sufficiently closely connected to work to have had an impact on the working situation. For example, if two employees are involved in a fight at a Christmas party and are both aware of the company’s expectations regarding their conduct then disciplinary action can be taken.
- Is it okay to offer a free bar at a Christmas party?
Though a definite morale booster for staff, you need to be aware of the dangers of providing an unlimited free bar. By providing an unlimited free bar, you are ultimately responsible for the conduct of the attending employees which will make it difficult to uphold your policy should disciplinary action be taken.
- Do Christmas festivities discriminate against those of other religions?
As Christmas parties are generally more about having a staff get-together and boosting morale other than celebrating religion, it’s unlikely that a party would in itself be seen as religious discrimination. It would be wise, though, to keep a policy on religious observance during working hours and be supportive towards employees whose religious festivals fall at different times of the year.
- Can an employee insist on taking holidays during the Christmas period?
No. Unless you have an agreement that says otherwise, workers must give notice equal to twice the length of the holiday that they wish to take. You can then give counter notice requiring that the leave not be taken, so long as this counter notice is equivalent to the length of the holiday requested, and the worker is not prevented from taking the leave to which he or she is entitled in that holiday year and providing you have valid business reasons for refusing the request. If an employee insists on taking leave and does so without approval, you should approach the issue sensibly and be careful not to impose a disproportionate penalty on the employee, referring to your attendance management policy and procedures.
- What if an employee comes to work late or not at all the day after the Christmas party?
You can make deductions from an employee’s pay if they turn up late the morning after the company Christmas party, as long as the right to make deductions from wages for unauthorised absence is in the employment contract. If disciplinary action is to be taken for lateness or non-attendance after the Christmas party, you should ensure that staff are informed that this is a possibility in the disciplinary policy. Where an employee does not attend due to illness, you should follow your attendance management policy and procedures.
- Can I force my employees to work bank holidays?
There is no statutory right to time off during bank holidays, it all depends on the contractual arrangements regarding bank holiday working. Additionally, there is no statutory requirement to pay staff extra for bank holiday working, but you should observe contractual terms of custom and practice regarding pay rates. If your company operates during bank holidays, ensure your staff are aware of the arrangements for the Christmas period.
- What if a Christian employee refuses to work on Christmas bank holidays?
While employees don’t have the explicit right to time off for religious observance, a refusal to grant Christian employees time off for any of the bank holidays with religious significance could amount to indirect religious discrimination. If you don’t already have a policy on religious holidays it would be a good idea to consider introducing one. Our HR team can help you with this.
It’s always best to be prepared and, in the event of you needing to address an employee’s conduct, with this list you’ll be well armed and informed.
Our HR Advisors are always on hand to assist with any issues you have and help ensure that it really is the most wonderful time of the year for you and your staff!