An employer’s guide to Christmas: Frequently Asked Questions

The Christmas period is a great time, but it can also bring with it a number of staffing issues and queries. 

To help you prepare your business for the festive season and to deal with any staffing challenges, I have answered some frequently asked questions.

1. As a business owner, what should I do to prepare for the Christmas and New Year period?
• If you have a policy on work-related social events, remind yourself and your staff of it.
• If you are holding a staff party, remind staff of their behaviour, especially around alcohol consumption and behaviour towards their colleagues.
• Remind them generally about lateness and absenteeism over the Christmas period.
• If you are holding a work’s party, ensure you include everyone. Invite staff who are not currently off work, for example on maternity leave.
• When planning a party, consider staff with other religious beliefs. Issues to think about include the venue, the timing of the party, food and ensuring there are non-alcoholic drinks.

2. As the business owner, am I responsible for what happens at our work’s Christmas party?
Yes, quite possibly. If it is a work’s party and is held either on company premises or at another venue, then legislation refers to the terms “in the course of employment”, and you can be held liable, for example for harassment, discrimination and victimisation.

3. Can I discipline a member of staff for their conduct at a Christmas party?
Yes, if the incident is sufficiently closely connected to work to have had an impact on the working situation.
In a 2012 tribunal case, it was agreed that a member of staff was fairly dismissed for a brawl after the end of a Christmas party.

4. Can I require my staff to work overtime in the run-up to Christmas?
If your contracts of employment include a clause requiring staff to work overtime when necessary, then it will generally be reasonable to expect them to work a reasonable amount of overtime and to take disciplinary action if a member of staff refuses to do so.

5. Can a member of staff insist on taking holidays during the Christmas period?
No. A member of staff may request annual leave, but you do not have to authorise it if you have a sound business reason not to. If you refuse an annual leave request you should give equivalent notice to the length of the holiday requested.
Not all staff can have the same time off over Christmas. Ensure you have a fair way of handling multiple requests. For more advice, read my article https://www.hillhr.co.uk/2017/07/06/six-tips-managing-summer-holiday-requests.  Although this is about managing summer holiday requests, the principles can be applied to any leave requests.

6. Can I require my staff to take annual leave during the Christmas period?
If your business closes over the Christmas period, you need to inform your staff that they will be required to take annual leave at that time.
Ideally, you should ensure there is a clause within the contract to inform them that this will be a requirement each year and that so many days of their leave allocation must be used during the Christmas period.
Prior to each Christmas, you will need to give your staff notice of the number of days (remember it can change year to year).

7. What should I do if a member of staff comes to work late or not at all after a Christmas party?
Where the member of staff is late, you should speak to the person and inform them this is a disciplinary offence. For a first offence, you may consider a formal conversation with the person is sufficient. Thereafter, you may wish to consider disciplinary action.
Where the member of staff does not turn up to work at all, this should be treated as unauthorised absence and disciplinary action taken.
Where the member of staff does not attend due to illness, you should follow your attendance management procedure.
You can make deductions from pay for lateness or unauthorised absence as long as there is a clause within the contract to allow you to do so.

Although this covers the more common questions I am asked by business owners, there are many other queries that I haven’t answered. If you have a question, about managing staff over the Christmas period or at any other time, please select Contact Us and send me a message.