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18th December 2017

Managing Employees During The Festive Season

Christmas is fast approaching and millions of people across the UK will be finalising their festive plans. Despite knowing that Christmas comes around at the same time every year, employers always have last minute issues to consider and questions to ask where their employees are concerned. These often include questions about time off and holiday entitlements, office party misconduct, and employees not attending work.

If these issues are not dealt with carefully, it is not uncommon for conflicts between employers and employees to arise. But they can be managed, or avoided altogether if all parties are aware of their rights and responsibilities.

We will have a look at some of the common issues employers face in every festive season.

Can Employees Insist On Taking Christmas Bank Holidays As Paid Leave?

This year Christmas Day falls on a Monday, so the two official bank holidays take place on 25th December (Christmas Day) and 26th December (Boxing Day). Workers do not have a legal right to take paid leave on bank holidays. Most workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year, and employers have the discretion to exclude or include public holidays as part of that entitlement depending on the terms of the worker’s contract.

Many companies will close on bank holidays throughout the year, and even more will shut down for Christmas Day. However, some will remain open, including hotels, restaurants, hospitals and care providers. Employers can ask employees to work on bank holidays over Christmas and employees are not entitled to refuse. Whether workers have time off on these bank holidays will depend on business needs and agreement with their employers.

Can An Employee Refuse To Work Over The Christmas Period On Religious Grounds?

It is common for employees to want to take time off for religious festivals and holy days. However, employers are not legally obliged to grant requests for leave on religious grounds. While it is good practice to accommodate as many of these requests as can be balanced against the requirements of running a business, it is also important to ensure that requests are handled in a tactful and consistent manner. Employers should additionally take care not to disproportionately favour one group over a group with differing (or no) religious beliefs. An employer’s failure to handle requests fairly could lead to allegations of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief.

What If There Is Misconduct At a Christmas Party?

Employees should treat the office Christmas party as an extension of their time at work, and any misconduct at a Christmas party will likely be considered to have taken place in the course of their employment. While the limitations on what amounts to acceptable behaviour are understandably relaxed slightly for the Christmas party, policies such as those relating to equality and diversity must still be complied with, and discrimination, harassment or victimisation that takes place in the course of employment, including at the Christmas party, would still amount to a breach of that policy.

Employers remain liable for the acts of their employees at a Christmas party, and could, therefore, be liable for any discrimination that takes place there unless they can show they have taken reasonable steps to prevent it.

Misconduct can be dealt with, as usual, through an employer’s disciplinary procedure.

What Can We Do If We Suspect Unjustified Sickness Absence During The Christmas Period?

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 is more acute. Employees, however, must follow a set reporting procedure in line with company policy and speak to their manager as soon as possible detailing the nature of the illness and a likely return date. If the illness is less than seven days, they can self-certify the absence, and if it is seven days or more, they should provide a written note from their GP.

If an employee attends work late or not at all following a Christmas party, employers can make deductions from their pay as long as there is a right to do so in the employment contract. Lateness or non-attendance due to illness can be dealt with under an employer’s attendance management procedures, but if there is a concern that the absence is not genuine, or is a result of an employee over-indulging the night before, and is therefore unauthorised, this can be dealt with under the disciplinary procedure as misconduct.

Guidance For Employers

It is important to remember that misconduct and attendance issues are no different during the Christmas period than they are during the rest of the year, and it is helpful for employers to have a policy in place dealing with workplace social events as a matter of good practice. A statement to employees in advance of a Christmas party or other social event is also worth some consideration, as this would explain the expected behaviours of staff, what might be construed as harassment, and give guidance on the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Anthony Fox

Napthens LLP – Employment Law Specialist

Anthony is one of our Employment Law Specialists from Napthens Solicitors. Read more

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