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Top five festive questions?

Without wanting to appear like Scrooge, Christmas can be a huge distraction in the workplace and it is also a time of year that raises many employment questions, both from employers and employees. Here are a few of the common issues that arise at this time of year, which can sometimes lead to workplace squabbles.

1. Can I shut the office for two weeks at Christmas and enforce a period of holiday for all staff over the Christmas period?

It depends on individual employment contracts, but the short answer generally is yes.

Your contracts may well have a clause that allows you to enforce a period of holiday. Otherwise, the Working Time Regulations do allow employers to give notice for workers to take statutory holiday on specified dates. The notice period must be at least twice the length of the period of leave that the worker is being ordered to take.

The benefit of doing this is that everyone gets the opportunity to enjoy the Christmas period and there are no squabbles about fairness and who should get time off.

2. I would like to reward my staff with a Christmas bonus, but does this mean that I will be tied into providing a bonus every year?

It depends. If you want this to be a one off then you need to inform staff that this is a one-off discretionary bonus. If you decide that only some workers are entitled to the bonus, then make sure that there are clear objective reasons for this, not linked to discriminatory factors such as sex, age or religion.

Conversely, if you want to withhold a bonus this year, then make sure that there is no contractual right to a bonus. If you always award a Christmas bonus then employees may have acquired the right out of custom and practice. Failing to award the bonus could then result in a claim for unpaid wages or constructive unfair dismissal.

3. Last year an employee posted drunken photos online after the Christmas party, is there any way of avoiding this?

The best way to avoid this type of issue is to have a social media policy which makes it clear that disciplinary action may follow if employees post comments or photos which bring the company into disrepute. Prior to the Christmas party, remind staff that all of your employment policies apply equally to the Christmas party as they do the workplace.

4. An employee has accused one of our managers of inappropriate behaviour at the Christmas party which took place in the evening at a local hotel

- is this my responsibility?      

If you organised the party then the answer generally is yes. Employment law applies even when the party takes place outside of the workplace or outside of working hours. This means that you are responsible for employee actions in exactly the same way as if they took place in the office or any other place
of work. 

Therefore, when faced with an allegation arising from incidents at the Christmas party you must investigate after the event, as you would any other workplace grievance or disciplinary and follow up with a disciplinary procedure if necessary.

5. We all enjoy a bit of snow around Christmas but some employees haven’t managed to get into work because of the weather; do they have a right to be paid?

So, this may not strictly be about Christmas, but it is a problem that seems to come up every winter. The position is that generally no, you do not need to pay staff if they have not come to work, but this is subject to any contractual terms that contradict this.  If you have always paid staff in the past then they may be able to argue that the right to be paid for snow days has arisen out of custom and practice. 

The safest option is to have a severe weather policy so that employees know where they stand and remind the workforce of the policy before the weather sets in and not after the event. You could consider allowing staff to come in late or to work from home.  Ensure that any policies are applied consistently to avoid allegations of unfair treatment.

For further advice contact Amanda Finn at a.finn@gullands.com