News & Views

Winter wisdom from LAW

BY Heather Kemmett
Employment law
BG Purple

First up, the CHRISTMAS PARTY!! Staff might be champing at the bit to get rocking around the Christmas tree, but employers frequently get themselves stressed out worrying about employment law implications.

Most of the potential problems come from the consumption of alcohol; remember that there have been cases where employers have been found to be liable for party punch-ups because their attitude to free alcohol was held to have fuelled the fisticuffs. So be sensible about the amount that is on offer and be sure to provide plenty of soft drink options. Your photocopier will be grateful, even if staff won’t!
 

  • It may be useful to remind managers that loose lips sink ships, so they should keep shtum if they feel the urge to wax lyrical about the job promotions that their staff are sure to get (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). 
     
  • Think about running equal opportunities training prior to the festivities. That way, if you find staff sneaking off to the broom cupboard to “go over the figures” mid-party, you may be able to invoke a statutory defence against any harassment claims that come your way.

Next on the list- the perennial headache of annual leave at Christmas time. If your workplace stays open at Christmas, you will be familiar with the problem of the Christmas holiday rota. 

  • Remember that you do not have to pay overtime during public holidays, unless your employment contracts specify otherwise. 
     
  • If no-one volunteers to work, ensure that you are fair about staff rotas. Don’t assume that non-Christians will be happy to work and have regard to those wishing to attend religious services.  
     
  • Remember that annual leave continues to accrue for staff who are absent due to long term illness, and that they should be permitted to carry forward leave to the next holiday year. 
     
  • Similarly, those members of staff on maternity or adoption leave continue to accrue annual leave and they may have to carry forward holidays between holiday years to “tack it on” to the end of their leave.

We turn now to the issue of Christmas bonuses. It’s been a tough year for UK businesses, with recent data showing that employers are less likely to award Christmas bonuses than last year.  

  • Whether or not you have a contractual obligation to give a bonus will depend, to a great extent, on how often you have done so in the past. If you have always granted a Christmas bonus and your contracts do not state that they are discretionary, then you may be on thin ice if you want to withdraw the bonus this year. 
     
  • If you are going to offer a bonus this year, make sure you remember to include those who are off on mat leave or long term sick, provided that the bonus is not linked to individual performance. 

And finally, spare a thought for those who are struggling at this time of year. Whether that is because of problems at home, recent bereavement or other personal problems, some people find the Christmas period particular difficult to cope with and this may affect their work. It may be useful for managers to have a brief chat with people they know to be struggling and offer them extra support if they need it.

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