14 Things HR Need To Know About Christmas
Employers are obliged to provide and maintain a safe place of work for employees. While employers’ health and safety obligations should not be used as an excuse to dampen the festive spirit in the workplace, employers should be aware of their obligations to employees under the legislation and take common sense precautions when it comes to decking out the office for Christmas.
Employer’s should take precautions such as providing staff with suitable step ladders to put up decorations, making sure that Christmas trees are not blocking fire escape routes or exits, and checking any novelty lighting for defects and ensuring compliance with insurance policies.
- Secret Santa
While Secret Santa in the office is often seen as a bit of fun, the anonymity involved can sometimes result in inappropriate, and even offensive gifts, being exchanged between colleagues.
Employers should ensure that employees are encouraged to consider in advance of selecting a gift whether their choice of Secret Santa gift might cause offence or be construed as discrimination, bullying or harassment.
- Public Holidays
There are three public holidays over the Christmas period; Christmas Day (25 December), Boxing Day (26 December) and New Year’s Day (1 January).
Employers are advised to draw up rosters and confirm with employees the days they will be required to work over the holiday period in early December to avoid any confusion or upset amongst staff.
- The Party
An employer is vicariously liable for the conduct of its employees at a Christmas party organised by the employer.
In order to avoid any discrimination claims everyone in the business should be invited to the Christmas party whether or not they are on sick or maternity leave.
Employers should ensure that employees understand the standard of conduct expected of them at a Christmas party
- At the Office
If you are planning to hold the Christmas party in the office you may want to consider removing electrical equipment, using plastic cups and adhering to general food hygiene.
You may also want to consider rules about misuse of the office photocopier!
- Menu and Venue
You should ensure that all needs are catered for (e.g. vegetarians, non-drinkers) and that the venue is suitable for disabled access. You may also be held responsible for organising the journey home if the location is rural.
If you employ staff under the age of 18 remember it is an offence to consume alcohol under age and it is also an offence to knowingly permit or condone illegal drug use.
Also ensure that any comedy entertainment does not offend people based on their religion or sexual orientation for example.
- Date and Time
Plan your Christmas party so that it does not clash with other religious events (e.g. Hanukah) and consider people’s child care commitments.
If people are unable to attend consider minimising the number of emails sent about the event so that they do not feel excluded.
- Christmas Party conversations
An employee was promised by his manager at the Christmas party that his salary would double over the following two year period. The employee subsequently resigned, claiming constructive dismissal on the grounds that his manager had broken this promise.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal decided that the context of the conversation (the company Christmas party) indicated that the manager did not intend to enter into any legally binding contractual commitment, rather it was more a statement of intent.
This case should not be interpreted as meaning that things said at the Christmas party cannot be intended to create legally binding commitments and this “case could easily have gone the other way”.
Employers should advise managers not to discuss career potential or remuneration with employees at the company Christmas party.
- Social Media
It might be said that there is no such thing as bad publicity but the last thing an employer needs is for images or footage from its Christmas party going viral on social media sites for all the wrong reasons.
Employers should ensure that employees are aware, either through the company Social Media Policy or specific guidelines circulated in advance of the Christmas party, that employees should not place material on social media sites which would adversely affect the reputation of the employer or that breaches its bullying and harassment procedures and that such conduct may result in the employee being disciplined in accordance with the employer’s disciplinary policy.
- The Morning After
Employers are obliged, to provide as far as is practicable, a safe place of work. Employers should be mindful of such obligations to employees who are required to work the day after the Christmas party, in particular those employees who drive or operate machinery. An employee should not be at work under the influence of drugs or alcohol so that they do not endanger their own or another person’s health and safety at work.
Employers may want to place a cap on alcohol served as free bars can be seen to endorse excessive binge drinking and therefore any consequential drunk behaviour.
Employer’s should tell all employees of their expectations that employees who report to work the day after the Christmas party are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Christmas Bonus – is it discretionary?
It is common practice at this time of the year for employers to give employees Christmas bonuses as a gesture of goodwill.
If an employee’s contract of employment is silent in relation to the payment of a Christmas bonus, an employee may argue that such a bonus is an implied term of his/her employment contract where there has been a custom and practice of paying the bonus on a yearly basis over a number of years.
An employer should ensure that its employees’ contracts of employment expressly state that a Christmas bonus is payable wholly at the discretion of the employer and is not a contractual entitlement. However, employers should bear in mind that the less they use such discretion, the more difficult it is to rely on it.
- Christmas Bonus non-discriminatory
In calculating Christmas bonuses an employer should ensure that if a bonus is based on company or team performance throughout the year that employees who have been on leave of absent from the workplace during the year owing to, for example, maternity or medical reasons, should not be discriminated against or treated less favourably than employees who have not been absent on such leave.
- Snow Days
If an employee fails to attend work due to snow travel disruption, they have no statutory right to be paid.
Where an employee is unable to attend work due to snow travel disruption, the employee is not entitled to be paid but an employer should look at each situation on a case-by-case basis and should consider the possibility of an employee working remotely pending the employee’s return to work or taking annual leave.
- Merry Christmas!
The main thing is that you and your colleagues enjoy Christmas.
Have a wonderful Christmas from all at Morgan LaRoche.