‘Tis The Season To Be Jolly, but for employers, it is important to stay aware of certain issues that can arise during the festive period. Here is our list of 12 top tips (one for each day of the festive season!!) to ensure everyone in the workplace has themselves a Merry Little Christmas!
- Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow???
Where the Christmas period brings particularly adverse weather, an employee may be unable to attend work due to disruption of their normal means of travel. If this situation arises, employers may be willing to exercise discretion. The employer should consider the individual circumstances of each employee. It is always advisable to try and be flexible with employees where adverse weather makes attendance at work difficult. Some measures which could be considered are:
- Allowing an employee to work from home during this time.
- Having an employee to work at another suitable location.
- Permitting the employee to use holidays to cover the period where they cannot attend at work.
- Allowing the employee to work at other times to make up for the period of time they have been unable to attend at work.
There is always a benefit to be had in trying to be accommodating where an employee cannot attend work due to circumstances outside of their control (where this is genuine). They key thing for employers to be is clear and consistent as to what alternative arrangements they can/ may put in place. If all else fails, employers can simply treat the day as authorised absence (or not if evidence suggests otherwise). Where this has to happen, there is no statutory right for the employee to be paid.
Some employers may give their employees a bonus as a gesture of goodwill at Christmas. However, where doing this, an employer needs to be mindful of the legal status of such a payment and whether this creates a real right for employees to expect a bonus in future years.
Employees only have a legal right to be paid a bonus if this is stated in their contract of employment. Often, there are a certain number of criteria that require to be met before an employee is entitled to a bonus such as reaching sales targets, productivity or adhering to another form of performance standard.
However, it could be possible that payment of a Christmas bonus has become “custom and practice”. This means that if employees have had a bonus every year, they may argue that it has become an implied term of their contract of employment. If you do not pay employees the bonus they have become accustomed to, refusal to pay a bonus may amount to an unlawful deduction of wages.
A good tip would be to ensure that an employee’s contract of employment states that the employer has absolute discretion as to whether any Christmas bonus will be awarded or not.
- Driving home for Christmas (holidays)
As Christmas Day and Boxing Day fall on a Monday and Tuesday this year, both of these days will be bank holidays. There is no legal obligation for an employer to give paid leave for bank holidays (although most businesses do recognise the festive period).
For some businesses, Christmas may be one of the busiest times of the year but may also be the most popular time for employees requesting time off. It is also common for employers to close for certain periods and require employees to use their “personal” annual leave entitlement.
Ideally, employers’ contracts/ policies should be clear on what rights/ obligations workers have and give guidance on how to book time off. It is important to ensure workers follow such guidance to ensure the workplace is properly manned.
- “Snow” skiving
Some employees may succumb to the temptation of doing Christmas shopping online whilst they are at work. Most employers permit personal use of their IT systems by employees during breaks.
Where employees abuse such a perk, this can amount to an act of misconduct, being a failure to devote all of their time and attention to their duties. Data protection law indicates that if you propose to monitor your employees’ use of the internet, you must inform them of the fact you will be doing this. If you fail to do so then you may be in breach of data protection rules.
Nonetheless, employers can still discipline employees who misuse their working time and email/internet facilities.
If not already in place, it would be wise for an employer to have policies on IT which makes clear what will be tolerated by way of personal use of the web, within limits to minimise the need for activity to be monitored.
- The 25th December – just another day
Some non-Christian faiths do not celebrate Christmas. As such, employers need to ensure that employees who do not observe Christmas (whether in its religious or commercial guise) are not discriminated against or forced to participate in any events. They should not be forced to do anything they do not want to as this could amount to harassment under the Equality Act. As such, ensure employees’ views are respected.
- Santa Claus is coming to town
Many workplaces have a “Secret Santa” in the run up to Christmas with buying presents anonymously for their selected colleague. Sometimes inappropriate presents may be swapped. Employers and employees should be mindful of the gifts they are purchasing and should take care to ensure that their choice of gift is not offensive or could be seen as bullying or harassment. Again the Equality Act needs to be borne in mind (and remember point 5 above too).
- Everyone’s dancing merrily in the new old-fashioned way
If an employer decides to host a Christmas party in the workplace, as opposed to a hotel, bar or restaurant, then it is important to be aware of any health and safety issues. Although this is a time for everyone to relax and have fun certain standards of behaviour will still apply.
If you are holding any Christmas events then you should ensure that alternatives to alcohol are made available, etc. – that will be important for those of faiths who do not drink. It will also ensure any pregnant employees are not subjected to less favourable treatment.
It is important to remember that employers are responsible for the health and safety in the workplace, even out with normal working hours. And while we’re talking about the Christmas party…
- He knows if you’ve been bad or good
If the Christmas party is an official work event then any acts of misconduct, discrimination, harassment or bullying should be dealt with. Such events can (and very often are) viewed as being an extension of the workplace.
As an employer, it is possible that you could be held liable for acts of employees that occur at work events. For example, complaints about harassment, bullying, discrimination or misconduct at Christmas parties should be treated in the normal way as the employer could still be held liable for any incidents involving such. Consequently, (and without dampening the Christmas spirit) employees should be informed (in advance) of the standard of behaviour that is expected of them at any event. It may even be wise for employers to amend their policies so that social, work-related events are covered by the same guidance and rules.
- Rudolph has tagged you in a photo on Facebook!
During all the excitement and enjoyment, employees should be told not to place photos or videos etc. on any social media site which could have a negative impact on the reputation or status of the business. Social media policies are a must in this regard as they can set out what is and what is not acceptable. Not all publicity is good publicity!
- Deck the Halls
Certain workplaces often like to decorate the premises with Christmas decorations at this time of year. Lights, Christmas trees and tinsel can make for a very festive workplace but safety measures should be in place to ensure the following:
- There are no tripping hazards
- Fire exits are not blocked
- There are no fire hazards or defects in lights etc.
- Oh the weather inside is frightful
As we get towards Christmas and temperatures drop, the heating system becomes a regular topic of conversation in all offices/ workplaces.
There are health and safety requirements in place to protect employees from cold temperatures. If strenuous work is being undertaken, then the temperature must be above 13 degrees. In other places, the temperature must be above 16 degrees. If the temperature was to fall below these figures, then employers would have to take action e.g. send employees home or to another branch or office of the business.
In certain types of workplace, extremely cold temperatures could cause a danger to employees, depending on the type of work that they are carrying out. As such, employers always need to be mindful of their health and safety obligations and ensure that all risk assessments are kept up to date.
- Like the elves in Santa’s workshop…
Even though employees may feel it is appropriate to get themselves into the Christmas spirit, they should be reminded that the same working standards and behaviours apply during this period. Being consistently late or not working during normal hours can lead to disciplinary action in the same way it could do at any other time of year.