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Top Tips: Christmas Workplace Problems

written by Business Beetle

Whilst the Christmas period is full of festive cheer and celebrations, it can also cause a whole host of issues for employers. Are you prepared to tackle the festive season head on or are you dreading every second? Here we give you some handy tips to keep the ball rolling as it should over the festive period.


From workplace parties causing havoc to absences that are for everything other than being legitimately poorly. Overtime, days off and fair holidays are just a few issues that employers face every single year when Christmas rolls around. When the employee agenda conflicts with that of your business, it’s time to take control and lay down some rules that aren’t there to be broken.

Prepare for the inevitable

As a manager or employer, by the time Christmas arrives you need to know your policies and standard procedures like the back of your hand. Whether it be what happens with leave or the rules for staff parties and social events. It’s also a good idea to send an email/memo to employees before the time comes reminding them of what the rules are. This is also good for any employees that are spending their first Christmas at your company. Remind of conduct, this includes alcohol consumption and behaviour following it.

This may seem excessive and unnecessary. However, you have a duty of care towards your staff and you need to take all relevant steps to ensure you fulfil it. Whilst people are in your employment, by law you are liable for all acts of harassment and victimisation if you haven’t taken reasonable action to prevent them. This is a case of protecting your employees and yourself.

Is it really your responsibility what goes on at the Christmas party?

In short, yes. Law states that ‘in the course of employment’ that these events are your responsibility. Following a case of somebody being sexually harassed by work colleagues in a pub outside of their regular working hours, The Employment Appeal Tribunal deemed the employee responsible saying that events immediately after work or that are organised within work hours fell within ‘course of employment’.

So, although it can seem unnecessary and a lot of your employees probably won’t take much time to read it, sending those reminders is crucial over the Christmas period and for any other work-related social events that may take place throughout the year.

What can you do about misconduct that takes place after a Christmas party?

You can take action as you see appropriate. Whether it’s action that falls in line with your disciplinary procedures or dismissal. Depending on the nature and severity of the misconduct, you can act accordingly within the workplace. Previous cases have shown fair dismissals for events following work Christmas parties.

What happens when several employees are involved in the misconduct?

If the people involved are equally to blame for the events then they must be treated the same throughout the process. Where Christmas parties are concerned, there’s often alcohol consumed. This can mean that establishing who’s to blame can be difficult. Blurred memories and inaccurate accounts of events cause problems in this area. Whatever happens, whether it’s dismissal, written warnings or sweeping it under the carpet – the same action needs to be taken for all parties.

For example in past cases, following physical altercations at work-related events, where one party has been given a written warning and another has been dismissed it has been deemed as unfair dismissal by a tribunal. To create a fair outcome, both parties should have either been dismissed or given a written warning. However, if there was clear evidence to show who instigated the fight then it would have been fair to punish them more harshly.

Overtime, can you insist on it?

This one comes down to your employees contracts. If there is something within their contracts which reads to the effect of ‘there may be occasions where you are asked to work overtime’ then technically it’s well within your rights as an employer. Therefore, it’s widely viewed as acceptable to begin disciplinary action when an employee refuses to work overtime.

There have been cases where employees have been dismissed under gross misconduct when they’ve refused to work overtime. Employees should expect to be asked to work overtime particularly in the busiest period if it has a clause in their contract stating something related to doing so.

Holidays over Christmas, can they insist on it?

They can and they can’t. Without an agreement, employees need to give you notice twice the length of the holiday requested. Holidays can only be requested and as an employer you have the right to decline the request. As long as you do so in time equivalent to the length of the holiday requested. If the employee requesting the holiday has got untaken leave to use and gives the correct notice, you must have valid business reasons as to why they can’t take the requested leave.

It isn’t uncommon for employees to take it upon themselves to take the leave even if it’s unapproved. We advise approaching the situation with a level head and carefully considering the following action. There have been cases where a case like this has been taken to court and employees have been deemed to have been unfairly dismissed for failing to attend work close to Christmas.

What happens when employees are late to work the day after the Christmas party?

If in their contract there something that states you can make deductions from pay for unauthorised absence then you can do so. If your company takes disciplinary action for such events, you should make all employees aware of this previous to the Christmas party.

It is common for employers to offer an attendance allowance. For example, employees can come into work up to 2 hours late the following day. Employees find this fair and stops them from being absent without permission. Make it clear that this is for everybody who attended the party, even those who didn’t consume alcohol or stay late.

Can you insist that they take annual leave throughout the Christmas period?

If your business closes over the Christmas period, you will need to arrange an agreement that requires employees to take annual leave during that time. You can allocate leave to that time specifically to ensure that everybody is staying in line with the agreement. You need to give notice twice as long as the allocated amount of days. However, it’s good practice to have this agreement within your holidays policy.

What if Christmas travel changes impact on employees getting to work?

A large proportion of employees commute via public transport. Christmas can often disrupt these journeys, so what do you need to do to be fair? You have no legal obligation to pay anybody that cant get to work or is late. A lot of employers are flexible and offer alternatives. Can they work from home or from another suitable location? If not, discuss making the time up or taking paid annual leave instead.

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