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Christmas advice for employers

With the festive season fast approaching, many employers will find that issues will arise in the workplace. Christmas is a time of celebration for many and employers can help the festivities by planning ahead for holiday requests, managing absences and Christmas events.

Here are some of the common issues that employers come across during the Christmas period; along with my top tips on how to deal with them effectively:

“Bank Holidays – when are they and do I have to give my employees the days off?”

Christmas Day falls on a Monday this year and Boxing Day falls on a Tuesday, which means these two days will be Bank Holidays. There is no automatic right for an employee to have either day off work or taken as paid time off unless their contract of employment specifically states that bank holidays are not working days. Paid bank holidays can be counted as part of statutory annual leave for employees.

Top tip: ensure you have appropriate contracts of employment in place that cover this issue as is appropriate for your business.

“Annual leave over Christmas – how do I deal with requests fairly?”

Your business’ annual leave policy should give guidance on how employees may book time off. However, at this time of year you might want to consider being a little more flexible when allowing employees leave. Each industry will differ in terms of whether Christmas is a busy or quiet time of year and that will dictate the level of staffing you require, and thus how much annual leave you can grant. The key is for both parties to try and come to an agreement and to plan as early as possible while being fair and consistent with all staff.

If your business needs require annual leave over Christmas to be restricted, this should be stated in both your contracts of employment and in your annual leave policy.

Employees with children may request extra time off at Christmas but it is 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.

Top tip: consider implementing a system whereby the Christmas holiday terms are confirmed to employees in good time, invite annual leave requests with a cut-off date, then consider the requests in a fair way to determine which are granted.

“Sickness absence during the festive season – can I monitor this more closely?”

Your usual sickness policy will apply during the Christmas period. The policy should be managed and operated fairly and consistently for all staff. Levels of staff attendance should be monitored as usual during this period in accordance with the associated policy. If you have any employees with an unauthorised absence or patterns in absence (eg high levels of sickness or late attendance) could result in formal proceedings.

Unfortunately, even if you suspect an employee is ‘throwing a sickie’, dealing with a health-related absence at Christmas is no different to any other time of the year – even if the impact on your business is greater. Where an employee is sick or absent from work the day after a work Christmas party, normal sickness policies and procedures will apply so do monitor this and ensure that any instances of absence or lateness do not go unaddressed.

Top tip: avoid the office Christmas party mid-week if at all possible, and remind staff that any absences should be reported in accordance with usual procedure.

“Christmas Parties – do I have anything to worry about?”

Everyone wants to have a good time at a Christmas party, and it should be enjoyed by all who attend and be free from any potentially embarrassing incidents. However, the Christmas party can be a minefield to be navigated very carefully by employers.

It is important to have clear guidance for employees on behaviour at work-related events and set out the possible implications of their actions. You might want to remind staff before any Christmas party what the your policy states, to avoid behaviours that could be viewed as harassment or misconduct.

Top tip: have a policy and circulate it around all staff prior to any work Christmas party.

“Pay – do I have to pay my employees extra over the Christmas period?”

There is actually no legal right to receive extra pay e.g. ‘time and a half’ or ‘double pay’ for working on a Christmas bank holiday. It is entirely at the discretion of you as the employer. I would recommend you clearly set out pay conditions in the employee’s contract of employment.

Top tip: though there is no automatic right to enhanced pay over Christmas Bank Holidays, consider whether your business can afford to pay a little something extra to employees as a gesture, whether that be a pay enhancement or a small “Christmas bonus”. That type of goodwill can go a long way with employees and when employees feel valued it can really boost morale and loyalty to your business. Just be sure to be transparent as to your policy, criteria and terms for eligibility to any such payment so that it is applied fairly.

Happy holidays!

Author: Sarah Naylor

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