The festive season can have a big impact on businesses in terms of potential workplace issues. For instance, difficulties can arise with winter travel disruption resulting in possible unauthorised absences and, if not managed properly, an increase in holiday requests for the Christmas break could lead to staff shortages.
Lisa Moore, Associate in the Employment Team, considers several issues which employers may need to consider at this time of year:-
On-line shopping– As Christmas approaches and people become busier, they may well be inclined to carry out their shopping on-line whilst at work. Employers are advised to have a very clear IT policy setting out what is and is not acceptable and should remind employees of this as necessary.
Secret Santa– Secret Santa is something that workplaces are increasingly participating in during the run up to Christmas. Whilst seemingly harmless fun, it does have the potential to cause problems. Employers have no direct control over what an employee may choose to buy for another employee. However, they could find themselves potentially liable for claims such as bullying, harassment and/or discrimination if an entirely inappropriate gift is purchased that causes offence to the recipient. Employers may therefore wish to ensure that members of staff are clearly informed of the need to exercise caution when purchasing gifts and that buying inappropriate gifts that could cause offence is likely to lead to disciplinary action. Employers could also provide examples of gifts that would (and would not be) acceptable in attempt to avoid any misunderstanding arising.
Annual leave– The Christmas break can be a very difficult time for employers in this respect. Where a business intends to close for Christmas but employees are required to use their annual leave during this period, then it must be made clear well in advance. Where the office is open as usual, the business should consider the minimum staffing levels required which would ensure that it could still adequately continue to operate. Where competing leave requests are made which cannot all be agreed, then it is essential to authorise leave in a fair and consistent manner. For instance, denying someone a leave request over Christmas because their religious beliefs are such that they do not celebrate it, could result in a complaint of discrimination.
The office party– Firstly, in terms of planning for an office party, it is important to remember to include all staff members in the invitation. This could include those on sick or maternity leave. It would also be a mistake to deliberately exclude any members of staff who maybe do not celebrate Christmas. Equally, employees who may have, say, childcare responsibilities should not be forced to attend an event outside of normal office hours. Secondly, care should be taken when organising the catering for a party. Employers should ensure that there is a sufficient range of options in terms of food and drinks so that everyone is catered for. Prior to the event, employers may wish to encourage employees to consider and plan how they will get home. In terms of the party itself, members of staff should be clearly reminded in advance that whilst they may well be in their own time and off work premises, the event is in every respect an extension of the work place. Accordingly, any inappropriate behaviour is no more acceptable than it would be on a routine basis and employees should be aware that such behaviour would be dealt with in accordance with the company’s usual disciplinary rules.
Social media– Either during or following Christmas events, employees should be reminded not to post any comments which may bring the company into disrepute on social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram. Similarly, members of staff should be warned against sharing photographs from events which could cause offence or perhaps would infringe another employee’s right to privacy. Again, if necessary, members of staff should be made aware as to any implications of breaching the company’s social media policy.
Lisa Moore comments, “In order to protect their position as far as possible, employers should review their existing policies which relate to these issues then communicate/re-state them to all members of staff and make any contingency plans as may be necessary. Further to the points outlined above, Acas have recently published some helpful guidance for employers on ‘workplace issues over the winter months’ which businesses may find useful. This note can be accessed via the ‘Advice and Guidance’ section on the Acas website.”