The run-up to Christmas can pose a host of tricky issues for those with HR responsibility within the business so here are our top tips for your HR Christmas list:
- Check whether you have an adverse weather policy in place
It’s been a few years since we had widespread heavy snow disruption but make sure you are clear on how any non-attendance due to adverse weather will be handled.
An employee who doesn’t attend work due to adverse weather has no statutory right to be paid. You might want to consider if employees can be required to work remotely pending their return to work or if employees are permitted to take the day(s) from their annual leave entitlement or if they need to make up the time at a later date.
A case by case approach is likely to be best but whatever decision you make, make sure you are consistent and non-discriminatory across your workforce.
- Check if any employees have substantial amounts of holiday left to take before 31 December
If they do, you might find that you are unexpectedly short-staffed at what might be a very busy time of year. If a request for holiday is made that for business reasons would be problematic, there is scope for rearranging or rejecting the request but generally speaking you will need to give as much prior notice as the amount of holiday you are rejecting. If there is only a small amount of the holiday year left, bear in mind that that might not be achievable if it results in your employee being prevented from taking their annual leave.
If a request for holiday is made and validly rejected and if your employee goes on to take the leave without approval, there may be grounds for disciplinary action but this should be approached reasonably and in line with your procedures.
- Will you require any employees to take holiday over the Christmas period?
If you want to require an employee to take holiday during the Christmas time, you can, provided there is no contrary agreement in place, give double the notice as the length of the leave to be taken. If your business closes down over Christmas, it would be best practice to give as much notice as possible to your employees so that they can plan their leave accordingly.
- Can you require employees to work overtime?
If overtime is a compulsory part of someone’s employment and they refuse to work it, there may be grounds for disciplinary action but on the flipside, if there is no requirement to work overtime, you won’t be able to compel your staff to work extra hours.
- Consider issuing a statement to your employees in advance of any social events (especially those involving alcohol)
Though you don’t want to take the fun out of the event, this is an opportunity to remind your employees of what is considered to be appropriate conduct, including the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption and behaviours that could be viewed as harassment.
- Don’t ignore grievances making allegations about incidents at the Christmas party
Even at a Christmas party organised off premises, it is highly likely that an employer will be found vicariously liable for the conduct of its employees. There have been a series of cases over the years involving alleged harassment at the Christmas party and tribunals have, in principle, had little difficulty in finding the employer liable. If you find a grievance on your desk, no matter how apparently ill founded, you need to take it seriously and investigate it sensitively and thoroughly. It might be possible to defuse the situation relatively easily but you should avoid making any assumptions until you have a full understanding of what has happened.
- Issue a dress code reminder
As Christmas approaches, office atmospheres tend to become increasingly relaxed. However, you should make sure your employees are aware that any dress code (whether formal or informal) still applies, especially for those in customer-facing roles. You might want to arrange a Christmas jumper competition to encourage good feeling and to issue a reminder about what is otherwise considered acceptable dress at the same time. Christmas jumper day falls on Friday 15 December this year and gives your business an opportunity to raise some money for charity at the same time.
- Check your social media policy
Employers are increasingly aware of the risks of social media and Christmas party photographs or videos might not be the right kind of publicity for your organisation. Hopefully your employees will be aware, either through a social media policy or specific guidance, that they should not post any updates or images that might adversely affect you or your reputation. However, some employees might flout that guidance. If you do find that potentially damaging updates have been posted, check if any policy has been breached, consider if any actual damage is likely to have been done and, if so, take action under your disciplinary procedure.
- Take appropriate action to address any unexpected absence
Contracts of employment and handbooks should include terms requiring employees to notify absence. A failure to comply is likely to mean the absence is unauthorised, that disciplinary action can be taken and, potentially, that pay can be docked. Even if absence is notified, if there is reason to believe that the non-attendance is due to over-consumption of alcohol, there might be grounds to withhold pay but if you as the employer have provided the opportunity for the over-consumption, that might be a difficult argument to run. In any event, withholding pay is always a sensitive matter and you need to ensure you have a contractual right to do so and notify the deduction to any employees concerned.
- Check if you have a substance misuse policy
If an employee turns up for work apparently under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the situation will need to be addressed with care. However, employers are obliged to provide a safe place of work and if there is a concern that an employee might endanger their own health and safety or that of another employee, action should be taken. In the absence of an express contractual provision or express consent, an employer should be cautious about testing for alcohol but if there is other evidence to support a suspicion of intoxication, there may still be grounds for taking action in accordance with your disciplinary policy.