Keep your workplace Christmas stress-free

‘Tis the season where we all get a bit merry and, sadly, sometimes blur the lines between work-life and personal-life! Here are our top tips for making sure your festive season goes smoothly!

Keep the Christmas party on track

Christmas parties can encourage employees to cut a little too loose with incidents of drunken behaviour common. As well as setting expectations of reasonable behaviour from employees, you can also consider the type of party you have. If you’re concerned about drunken behaviour, consider avoiding a free bar, or schedule a sit-down meal earlier in the evening.

Absence over Christmas

You should treat absences over the festive period as you would at any other time of the year. While it is the season of colds and flu, and thus absences may very well be genuine, if you suspect an employee is taking unauthorised absence, you should monitor and investigate as you would at any other time of year.

Holidays and the festive period

Most people like to take time off over Christmas, however, just as with absences, you should follow your organisation’s policies and procedures regardless of the time of year.

If your employee has untaken leave, they are entitled to take it before their holiday accruement period ends (provided they give enough notice).
You can only refuse them in this circumstance if you have a valid business reason for doing so.

In some industries, for example, retail, you may restrict the amount of holidays an employee can take. However, you must have made this clear to the employee well in advance within their written terms of employment.

If you haven’t put processes in place for taking leave, the Working Time Regulations 1998 allow for a system for ‘notices’ to take leave, with the default position being that an employee has to give the employer a notice to take leave by giving twice as many days notice of leave as the number of days leave they require, e.g. ten days notice to take five days leave, or two days notice to take one day’s leave. Employers faced with a ‘notice’ to take leave can give a counter-notice to postpone the leave, giving as many days counter-notice as leave is requested. This system is hardly satisfactory as employees may make arrangements, book tickets etc. in the expectation of leave being granted only to have it taken away, and employers may be ‘ambushed’ with leave requests at short notice, so make sure that your leave arrangements contractually over-ride these ‘default’ provisions. Employers can also give employees notice to take outstanding leave before the end of a leave year so that leave is not carried over.

Working Christmas bank holidays

There is no statutory right to time off on bank holidays and this includes Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.

You are also under no legal obligation to pay employees any extra for working during the festive period, although many employers choose to do so as an added thanks for employees giving up their Christmas time.

Whatever you choose to do, you should ensure you follow your company’s policy and procedure on working patterns and pay. Its always a good idea to make it clear on employment contracts if employees are expected to work on any bank holidays, including those over the Christmas period.

What about religious observance over the festive period?

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from direct and indirect discrimination as a result of their religion.

For Christians, this could mean a claim of indirect religious discrimination if they are forced to work on religious holidays (i.e. Christmas Day). However, indirect discrimination can be ‘justified’ by operational needs, e.g. a care home has to operate on Christmas Day, so any religion-based objection to working is likely to have to yield to the needs of the business if there is no work-around. However, choosing people to work on, say, a Sunday because they are Christian would be ‘direct discrimination’ and always unlawful.

However, there is no explicit right for time off for religious holidays, you should consider if you can grant leave for this reason wherever possible. Always ensure, however, that you follow the same process regardless of an employee’s religion. For example, you should not grant religious leave to Christian employees while refusing religious leave requests from Muslim employees, and so on.

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Author chris swindells

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