It’s time to deck the halls and make merry and in our latest series we take a look at the HR issues which can affect your business during the festive season.
Day One – Social Media
‘Tis the season to be jolly…and surely there’s no better way for employees to share their festive joys than across social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. Does your company have a social media policy in place? If not, alarm bells (or shall we say Christmas bells) should be ringing…
Playful banter can quickly turn into raucous behaviour after a few too many mulled wines. Plastering alcohol-fuelled slurs or embarrassing photos across social media avenues can have detrimental effects on both the company and the employee, so it’s in everyone’s best interests to be aware that a social media policy is in place. Aside from potential reputational damage to the company, social media activity has been known to lead to bullying and harassment claims.
Don’t forget the London stockbroker who lost his job after an ill advised tweet – demonstrating the all too real danger faced by employees and employers. Or the case of over 800 police officers who it was reported in 2014 were investigated for misuse of social media.
Ensure that employees know the do’s and don’ts of your social media policy. Perhaps now is a good time to carry out that training you’ve been meaning to do…
Day Two – Sexual Harassment
Employers owe a duty of care to employees and, whether intentionally or not, after a few too many mulled wines, behaviour can get a little raucous. This can lead to boundaries being over stepped, personal space being invaded and, more seriously, sexual harassment. Although groping or making sexual advances towards colleagues can appear to be acceptable in the darkness of a hotel dance floor, the grave consequences of this behaviour can quickly become a reality in the sober (and often hungover) light of day.
Our top tips: limit the amount of alcohol available; ensure that your business has a clear policy in place; and make it clear to employees prior to the event that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. Oh, and avoid mistletoe decorations!
Day Three – Secret Santa
Calling all businesses… make sure you are aware of the pitfalls of Secret Santa!
This seemingly light hearted gift sharing event can quickly turn pear shaped if those involved (or not involved, as the case may be) feel it has been organised unfairly. Be mindful of the fact that leaving some employees out may be construed as bullying. The same can be said for individual employees being blamed for Secret Santa being cancelled. Try to avoid a blame culture and ensure everybody is included.
Another tip would be to ensure a maximum spend is set, for example set a £10 limit. Money is tight this time of year and any unnecessary financial pressure on employees should be avoided.
Finally, ensure that employees are aware that gifts must be appropriate! Employees should be warned off giving gifts of an offensive or explicit nature.
Day Four – Not everyone celebrates Christmas
We live in a multi-faith society and this cannot be overlooked when it comes to Christmas.
Participating in festivities relating to a particular religion, such as Christmas, should be entirely optional for employees. Group prayers before a work Christmas lunch or dinner should also be avoided, as this creates an assumption that everyone in attendance is of a particular religion. Employers should also be aware that some employees may not eat certain types of food due to religious reasons. Ensure everybody is catered for when ordering food at Christmas office parties.
Remember that some people will not drink alcohol due to their faith, yet they should not be treated less favourably or harassed for that (as our Secret Manager recently found out to their cost). Remind everyone of their obligations under your equal opportunities, anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies and think carefully about your event plans for this Christmas season.
If the above tips are ignored, your business may be opening itself up to potential religious and/or race discrimination claims, so beware…
Day Five – Let it snow!
Picture the scene… During the lead up to Christmas you wake up and discover a beautiful winter wonderland outside your bedroom window. Great news for snowmen around the country, but perhaps not such great news for employers…
With rail services severely disrupted, roads and motorways closed and icy car engines failing to start, many employees will struggle to make it into work. So what do you do now? Our top tip for winter weather conditions is to ensure that you have a clear policy in place should employees be unable to make it into work. If there is an option for employees to carry out their work from home, now is a good time to exercise this. Stay in contact with employees and ensure that they know where they stand.
And remember, as frustrating as it is, these situations are unavoidable and some allowances may need to be made for things like lateness and absence.
Day Six – The dangers of the office Christmas party – misconduct
Staff Christmas parties – the time of year when you can let your hair down and enjoy yourself with your colleagues.
As an employee, you should always be aware of the potential pitfalls of the Christmas party. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to a whole range of less than satisfactory behaviour, including swearing at colleagues, becoming embroiled in physical fights (punching your boss is never a good thing…), causing criminal damage at the party venue.. the list goes on.
Employers should ensure employees are aware that although a Christmas party may be held out of hours, it is still classed as a ‘work’ event, and the same disciplinary rules apply. Your staff handbook should cover this and perhaps a designated employee can keep an eye on levels of alcohol consumption and tipsiness throughout the night, so that potential problems can be identified and handled informally before they become disciplinary issues (which unfortunately didn’t happen in our Secret Manager’s Christmas party).
As with any potential disciplinary matters, employers should be careful not to open themselves up to unfair dismissal claims by having a knee-jerk and unconsidered reaction. For more information on disciplinary procedures in instances of gross misconduct, see our blogs; A Timely Reminder for Christmas Events and Candy Crush – Don’t Rush to Dismiss.
Day Seven – Christmas party policy
Most employers will have a variety of policies in place that deal with the kinds of problems that can occur over the Christmas period. However, employees may not be expected to review all of those policies in advance of the festive period starting.
One ‘catch all’ reminder sent to employees in good time before all the festivities start (and definitely prior to the Christmas party) with guidance on all of the above points should help prevent incidents occurring because employees have just one point of reference and clear guidance before the event. It can also go to show that you, as an employer, have taken reasonable steps to prevent any incidents occurring, should the worst happen and you face an employment tribunal claim.
Above all, it allows everyone to make the most of this festive time of year, enjoy themselves and socialise with their colleagues, hopefully without any unsavoury incidents!
It may have been a good idea for our Secret Manager to have done this and not face the issues that came up at their party (find out what happened here).
Day Eight – Health and Safety
Employers owe a duty of care to employees, including in relation to their health and safety which extends to work related events such as Christmas parties. Although this can cause a headache for people with responsibility for HR, it is vital that employers assess the risks to their employees before any event.
Things to consider include ensuring that the venue is easily accessible in terms of transport links. If not, it may be necessary to arrange coaches to take employees to the venue and also to ensure that staff can get home safely once the party has finished. Regard must be had for any disabled employees and ensuring that the party venue is accessible for all. If not, there may be a risk of a disability discrimination claim.
Employers should take steps to make sure the venue itself is safe, which might include asking an external venue for a copy of their risk assessment, or checking that the fancy Christmas decorations dangling from the ceiling of the office are not creating a major fire hazard…
Day Nine – What if someone doesn’t turn up for work the day after the staff Christmas party?
We all know that there is a tendency to overindulge at the Christmas party, but if the following day is a working day and someone does not turn up (and hasn’t booked a holiday) what can an employer do?
This is another situation where employers should ensure that employees are made fully aware prior to the event of the stance that will be taken on absenteeism or lateness the following day – and that staff should book annual leave if they do not believe they will be able to work the next day. If employers are likely to take disciplinary action against employees who simply fail to turn up for work, this needs to be made clear. Remind employees who drive to work that they will need to be extra careful with how much they drink and when they stop, when driving into work the morning after.
As for other factors to bear in mind, if an employer decides to hold the staff Christmas party on a week night and the bar doesn’t close until 1 a.m., a little leniency for late arrivals the next morning could be allowed. Much can be gained in employee goodwill and loyalty if the management are understanding in this respect.
There is more information on our previous blog about final warnings;
Day Ten – Christmas Holidays
The festive season… a time of year when most people like to put their feet up for at least a few days between bank holidays.
Are you the manager that needs to decide the holiday fate of two or more employees who want time off? Perhaps you need to consider a request submitted by a long serving employee who worked over the Christmas period last year, versus a late holiday request by the new apprentice whose family live five hours away by car. A very difficult decision, but somebody has to take it – and somebody needs to hold the fort…
Whatever you do, you should ensure that a fair process is in place. Firstly, consider whether it is absolutely necessary for somebody to be in the office, or whether the work can be done at home, or wait until the new year.
Some employers adopt a “rota” system, with different people working different days, or alternating each year. Some will ask employees to decide amongst themselves, to save the risk of damaging management relations with employees – but beware of the potential for bullying or unfairness and potential grievances. Also be mindful of the potential for discrimination issues. The situation of employees with childcare requirements or strong religious beliefs need to be carefully considered.
Day Eleven – The “in between” period
It’s freezing outside, everyone else is at home gorging on mince pies but you have to be in the office (probably with an electric heater and lots of work to do). You’ve used all your holidays on that trip of a life time which seems a life time ago… How do you and your staff get through the three working days between Christmas and New Year?
Here are some tips to make sure your team is as motivated, and therefore as productive, as possible during the “in between” period:
- Suggest rewards, such as small gifts or finishing early, if certain tasks are completed
- Allow staff to wear casual attire for work (unless people have external meetings lined up)
- Inject some fun into the office by holding a quiz one lunch time, or organising a team trip to a Christmas market
- Make sure you say thank you to the staff who come in during those days. Although this may seem trivial, appreciation can go a long way and can have a big impact on motivation in the workplace
Day Twelve – Back to reality…
Christmas is over. You can’t face another mince pie, your clothes are a little tight (to say the least…) and your first day back to work has become a reality.
Take this opportunity to grab the bull by the horns and kick start the New Year with a positive attitude and a winning team. Identify gaps in your work force and begin the recruitment drive early enough to make sure you get the pick of the bunch. And don’t forget about existing employees – reflect on how satisfied they are in their roles and make sure they feel valued.
It is also important during this time to ensure that the effect of ‘January blues’ isn’t reflected in employees’ performance. When the joy of Christmas is over and everyone’s bank accounts have taken a beating, making an effort to keep staff motivated can be well worth it.
It can also be a good time to introduce changes and improvements by capitalising on the tradition of new year’s resolutions, fresh starts and making a positive plan for the New Year.
For more information on these areas check out the following: Do parts of your staff handbook have binding contractual effect? A Change of Hart – Varying Employment Contracts and the Risk
To find out more about the issues raised in this post, or to discuss any queries regarding any issues in the workplace get in touch with Michelle Gray or call 0161 8292599
The information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Kennedys or any of its partners or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.