12 Days of Employment Law Christmas

On the first day of Christmas my employees gave to me…

12 Disciplinaries – The “works do” can be one of the biggest social events of the year. It gives both employers and employees the opportunity to mix, relax and enjoy the fruits of the year’s labour. However, the Christmas party is also an extension of the working environment and it should be remembered that employers can be held vicariously liable for discriminatory acts by employees – even when the event in question is outside of working hours and away from the usual place of work.

It is worth reminding employees that they are expected to behave in line with your policies and procedures and that any issues will be dealt with in the same way as if it had happened in the office.

11 Celebrations – It should be remembered that not everybody celebrates Christmas for personal or religious reasons and those who do not wish to participate in the festivities (be it Secret Santa, Christmas Jumper Day or the Christmas party) should not be discriminated against or forced to participate. Employers should also act sensibly – it is okay to send Christmas cards and hold a Christmas party without fear of a discrimination claim but employers should be sensitive towards other religious beliefs and ensure that all employees are treated fairly and equally.

10 Stopwatches – If your party falls on a work night and employees are required to be at work at a set time the next day, remind them of the consequences if they are late. You may wish to offer discretionary later starts.

9 Hangovers – Make employees aware of the consequences if they over indulge. It should not affect the ability to do their job the next day.

8 Christmas Tipples – While it is fine to offer a free bar at the Christmas party, excessive drinking can cause more problems than a hangover the morning after. Be mindful of how much people are consuming. Most problems at Christmas parties are a result of excessive drinking and it is not uncommon to see allegations of harassment, discrimination, threatening behaviour and physical violence flowing from them. A employer will be vicariously liable for acts of their employees carried in the course of employment by an employee. Employers have a defence under the Equality Act 2010 if they took all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination from occurring, so it is important that employees are made aware that bad behaviour at the Christmas party will have much worse consequences than ending up on the naughty list!

7 Party Poopers – You could nominate individuals to drink less to keep an eye on the festivities, to prevent any issues escalating.

6 Drink Drivers – Despite all the warnings every year many drivers still overdo the alcohol and all too often are caught still under the influence the morning after the night before. Discourage employees from drink driving and remind them to be careful. Employers should consider making it a contractual requirement for employees to notify them immediately of any drink driving conviction during their employment and implement an alcohol abuse policy, drugs and alcohol policy. Employers should also make it clear via their contracts of employment or policies that a drink driving conviction may lead to disciplinary action under the disciplinary procedure which could lead to termination of employment.

5 Sick Days – It is not unusual to see an increase in employee absence during the festive period. Over indulgence and a rise in the common cold and flu virus are among the reasons employees may opt for a “duvet day” throughout December. Employers should have up to date sickness absence policies and employees should be reminded that any unauthorised absence may be treated as a disciplinary matter.

4 Holidays – Christmas can be a real headache for employers in relation to holiday requests. Many employees will be eager to take time off to be with their families over the Christmas period but obviously, not every member of staff can have the same period off. Employers should ensure that there is a procedure in place for requesting holiday. Remember, an employer is entitled to refuse holiday requests.

Contracts of employment should be up to date and employers should act consistently when dealing with holidays.

3 Promotions – It is best to avoid discussions relating to salary, promotion or future prospects with employees at the Christmas party. Promises relating to pay and promotion can be contractually binding as verbal agreements.

2 Snow Days – Adverse weather conditions at this time of year can be a bane for employers. Dealing with lateness and absence due to weather just adds to the already lengthy Christmas list employers have to contend with. It is important to have a clear policy in place for dealing with weather disruptions. It should set out what you expect from your employees in the event of adverse weather, bearing in mind health and safety obligations but also remembering that if an employee cannot get to work because of bad weather, they are not automatically entitled to be paid.

And a Social Media Policy… The alcohol will flow and so might the tweets, posts, photographs and snapchats at the Christmas Party. Whilst most will be celebratory some may not be, so make sure it isn’t drink in and wits out when it comes to social media postings. What employees write or post on social media over the weekend could land them in hot water at work on Monday morning. Dismissing an employee because of what they have put on their private social media pages may be justified if an employer can establish they have a legitimate and justified reason to dismiss an employee to protect its own rights – normally its own reputation in cases where the employee identifies the employer on their social media profiles.

But most important of all……. Is that everyone has an enjoyable festive period. So we’d like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, being mindful of the potential issues set out above.

If you have any queries arising from this article please do not hesitate to contact Joanne Holborn, Tom Scaife or Caroline Rayner on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.

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