Employer Guide to a Stress-Free Christmas

News on 10 December 2019

Employer Guide to a Stress-Free Christmas

You will have read a lot about the socio-political issues of the Christmas party!

We wanted to take a wider view of the Christmas period and the associated HR issues and arm you with the answers to the commonly asked questions that business owners face in navigating their business through the festive period unscathed.

Can employees insist on taking Christmas bank holidays as paid leave?

There is no legal right to taking paid leave on bank holidays. Most workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks paid holiday per year and employers have the discretion to exclude or include public holidays as part of that entitlement depending on the terms of the contract.

Can an employee refuse to work over the Christmas period on religious grounds?

It is common for employees to want to take time off for religious festivals and holy days. However, employers are not legally obliged to grant requests for leave on religious grounds. While it is good practice to accommodate as many of these requests as can be balanced against the requirements of running a business, it is also important to ensure that requests are handled in a tactful and consistent manner. Employers should additionally take care not to disproportionately favour one group over a group with differing (or no) religious beliefs. 

Can bank holidays be made part of a worker's statutory allowance?

Under the Working Time Regulations (WTR) employers can ask their staff to take annual leave on specified dates. This includes bank holidays such as Christmas. As a rule, employees should receive a written statement within two months of starting work, which outlines their terms of employment and in particular their entitlement to holidays and public holidays.

What can we do if we suspect unjustified sickness absence during the Christmas period?

Even if you suspect an employee is 'throwing a sickie' (for example the day after the Christmas party), dealing with a health-related absence at Christmas is no different to any other time of the year - even if the impact is more acute. Employees, however, must follow a set reporting procedure in line with company policy:

  • speak to their manager as soon as possible (many employers stipulate within an hour of their normal start time)

  • detail the nature of the illness

  • set a likely return date

  • if the illness is less than seven days, provide a self-certificate

  • if the illness is seven days or more, provide written note from their GP

If a worker fails to follow this procedure and you believe that absence is unauthorised, then it may be necessary to take formal proceedings.

Are employees with children entitled to priority time off?

It's not uncommon for workers with children to request extra time off at Christmas. But it's up to the employer to decide whether this holiday leave is granted. As with all decisions of this kind, it pays to be as flexible as possible.  A considerate employer will take into account an individual's personal circumstances, but it will be just as necessary to balance the requirements of other employees and be fair and consistent with all staff.

Do I have to have a party? Can I do something else instead?

Simple answers - No, you don’t and yes you can

The Christmas party has always been a hot topic. Some people love them and some people hate them. Whether you’re a fan or not, you need to look at it like this – it’s considered a thank you and a morale booster for a lot of employees.

It’s up to you whether you have any celebrations at Christmas, but it’s generally a nice way to end the year and get your employees to spend time together and bond.

However, research has found the traditional boozy evening is not always what employees want. 

Mental health charity Mind says one in three employees would rather take part in a non-alcoholic Christmas activity than head to the pub. More than a quarter (28 per cent) said they would like to spend time with colleagues but wish it didn’t revolve around drinking.

When it comes to the cost to the business, a survey of more than 300 UK workers by Shine Workplace Wellbeing found almost three quarters (74 per cent) would rather £100 be allocated to longer-term health and wellbeing commitments than a Christmas bash. 

Shine founder Matthew Carlton said: “Rather than relying on one major annual event to boost employee morale, businesses should think about how they could invest in ongoing initiatives that make employees feel appreciated and supported for a prolonged period.”

Should I have a free bar?

There is nothing stopping you from having one, but it is worth considering the message this sends re responsible drinking. It is probably better to pay for a set number of drinks per person (vouchers are an easy way to control this) and that will not only send the message of responsible drinking but save you a lot of money as well! (Though beware of the crafty guys from sales who will create a black market in vouchers during the evening!)

Should I invite people who are not Christian?

You would be advised to have any social event open to all staff regardless of religion, belief, etc. Then they have the choice to accept or decline.

Am I allowed to say Merry Christmas? Some people say its offensive?

Yes of course you can – it’s a common traditional greeting at this time of the year.

Secret Santa is Pretty Safe Territory Right?

Nothing ruins Christmas like an employment tribunal that arises out of an inappropriate Secret Santa gift. 

A recent survey of 650 firms by HR and employment law specialists Citation found 5% now had a policy in place to guide employees in their festive gift-giving.

But more worryingly, 71% weren’t aware that as an employer they could be held liable if an employee received an offensive gift.

Among the inappropriate presents cited were toothbrushes, underwear, products of a sexual nature, deodorant, phallic-themed chocolate and female sanitary products.

Businesses are leaving themselves extremely vulnerable to HR issues, even tribunal proceedings, if just one employee gifts another with an inappropriate gift – not to mention the damage it can do to employee relations and the animosity it could cause among colleagues.”

We hope that our guide will help you navigate the Christmas period, gives you some food for thought with regard to how you celebrate, and also how you keep your business operating successfully over the festive window.