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Partner and Head of Family Law, Rugby
With the countdown to Christmas drawing near, most of us are busy worrying about critical matters such as who we can drop from the Christmas card list this year (have you seen the price of stamps?!). However, for employers, this is also the time of year to be particularly vigilant about (and to try and pre-empt) potential staffing issues.
So, we would like to offer a few pointers to help Christmas pass a little less eventfully.
Christmas has a way of bringing out both the very best and the very worst in people and intrinsic to any employer’s ‘strategy’ should be communication.
It is perfectly sensible to remind staff of relevant internal policies and to restate your expectations and the parameters of acceptable conduct whether that is in relation to standards of conduct, attendance, dress or otherwise.
Employers can very easily find themselves liable for the actions of their staff and some simply advanced thoughts and communication can help you distance yourself from unacceptable conduct, if it does subsequently arise.
Make sure that you have robust Equal Opportunities, Sickness and Anti-Harassment Policies and that they are implemented and applied consistently across the workforce with appropriate training. Consider sending a well drafted e-mail some weeks in advance to clarify for staff what is acceptable and what is not and confirming where your policies are kept.
Some employers will embrace Christmas as a ready-made team building event - some we have heard of even organise competitions such as who can come up with the best office decorations. All harmless fun?
Well, as an inherently Christian festival, employers need to think about employees of other faiths whose festivals may not be celebrated in the same manner. Could this difference in approach amount to religious discrimination, for example?
Whilst it can be argued that Christmas decorations such as tree baubles and tinsel are not religious in themselves, it is best to ensure that overtly religious symbols are not encouraged and to appreciate the possible risk.
Then, there are the health and safety implications such as fire risks or injuries caused when putting up decorations. Ensure a proper risk assessment is carried out and staff are using the correct equipment to hang decorations i.e. a staff ladder and not a swivel chair.
Last but not least on the point of decorations, ensure your employees are productive in their work and do not end up spending the day decorating the office – you still have a business to operate. However, on balance, remember a happy workforce tends to be a productive workforce.
The risks of Secret Santa are obvious - the protection of being the unknown purchaser may prove too tempting for some, spurring them on to gift something wholly inappropriate. Where bullying already exists, this may be the perfect opportunity to deliberately harass or humiliate a fellow colleague further.
The answer may not be to cancel the fun, but to issue a gentle reminder to managers to set out guidelines about Secret Santa gifts to their staff. Remember, everyone has different levels of tolerance.
The Night of the Christmas Party
The Christmas party itself is the event which can hold the greatest risk.
Remember that employers can be liable for the conduct of their employees not only whilst at the party, but also on their way to and from the party (and at other small work events even where they occur away from the office and outside of working hours). It is important to remind staff that the normal standards of behaviour are expected throughout.
Also, consider the food and drink on offer. If you have a diverse workforce, there may be religions which prohibit the consumption of alcohol or certain foods. Ensure that alternatives are offered to all staff cater accordingly.
Employers see it all too often when staff miraculously fall ill overnight after the Christmas party or during the Christmas period.
Remind staff that your sickness policy will be rigorously applied during the festive period and that staff will be required to self-certify the reason for any absence and that any inaccurate or misleading statements will be treated as a disciplinary offence.
If you do find yourself having to deal with complaints or grievances after the Christmas party, ensure that they are considered fairly and in accordance with the ACAS Code of Practice and that your own grievance or disciplinary procedures are complied with.
So the advice from our employment lawyers is to plan ahead and communicate with your staff in advance so that you can relax and enjoy the festive season. Of course, if you do experience any problems, you can be certain that we are here to help. For more information, please watch the webinar recording.
For any advice, contact a member of our Employment Team.