For many, Christmas is a time for celebration. Employers can significantly reduce the risk of any problems arising by planning ahead for holiday requests, managing absence and Christmas events.
Many companies will encourage a general festive atmosphere in the workplace, however, employers must take into consideration that not all employees will celebrate Christmas, although many organisations close between Christmas and New Year meaning that the seasonal holidays can be enjoyed by everyone. Christmas time generally means coming together, and so it is important to create an atmosphere that reflects this. How you express Christmas cheer in the workplace is up to the employer. If decorations will be displayed ensure to keep them tasteful and avoid anything that may disturb employees work. Ultimately employers must ensure that high standards of work must be maintained regardless of celebrations. It may be an idea to remind staff of any workplace policies and procedures that are in place in relation to performance and absenteeism.
The Christmas season has a big impact on most businesses in terms of increase in work load due to the likely demand for products, services and sales. An issue for many employers is staff requesting time off to spend with families or go on holiday during this particular busy time. In the absence of an agreement to the contrary, employers must give notice equal to twice the length of the holiday they wish to take. An employer can then give counter notice stating that the leave cannot be authorised, ensuring that the counter notice is again, equivalent to the length of the holiday requested. Where an employee has accrued untaken annual leave and gives reasonable notice to take the leave, the employer must have valid business reasons for refusing the annual leave request.
Should the situation arise where an employee insists on taking leave and does so without authorisation, employers should approach the issue carefully and ensure not to impose a disproportionate penalty to the employee. If a business is closed over the Christmas period, employers must ensure there are arrangements in place requiring workers to take annual leave during this time.
An organisation’s usual sickness policy will apply during this time. This policy should be managed and operated fairly and consistently for all staff. Levels of attendance should be monitored during this period in accordance with the associated policy. Any unauthorised absence or patterns in absence (e.g. high levels of sickness or late attendance) could result in formal proceedings. Where an employee is sick or absent from work the day after a work Christmas party, normal sickness policies and procedures would apply.
Similarly, an employer cannot insist their employees work overtime in the run up to Christmas unless the contract of employment includes a clause requiring an employee to work overtime when required.
This year, Christmas day falls on a Sunday and Boxing Day on a Monday. Meaning the two bank holidays for these days will be the 26th and 27th of December. There is no right to have either day away from work or taken as paid time off unless terms of the employment contract allow otherwise. Paid public holidays can be counted as part of statutory annual leave.
Christmas celebrations for many will involve a drink or two. Employers should have an alcohol in the workplace policy which staff should be reminded of especially throughout the festive season. Employers should promote a safe working environment by raising awareness of the risks and possible harm associated with alcohol misuse. The majority of people who drink, enjoy it without experiencing problems, however employers should highlight the negative effects on performance, service delivery and health and safety. Employers should always encourage staff who feel concerned about their drinking to express that concern to an appropriate person or agency.
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