HR Advice – Planning a Covid Christmas

Christmas this year is likely to be different for most of us, both at home and at work, without familiar scenes of parties and social gatherings.

At this time of year, us HR elves are normally busy advising employers on how to avoid any unwanted behaviour at the Christmas party, along with furnishing businesses with information on several other Christmas related HR topics.

Whilst things may be a little different for the 2020 celebrations, some of the issues we normally address still apply, and a Covid Christmas is creating some questions and hurdles of its own for employers.

Here we look at several areas employers will need to consider ahead of Christmas this year.

Xmas party – potential alternatives

For some employers, the Christmas celebration is one of the only times of the year that staff all get together to socialise outside of work, so is considered by some as a great opportunity for building morale. However, with the prospect of celebrating with a ‘normal’ Christmas party or festive get together being out of the question, many employers are considering the alternatives. Virtual events are one option, and there are some creative and inventive ideas for companies that are willing to invest a bit of time and money in planning something.

Other employers may decide to put the celebrations on the back burner for this year; perhaps delaying until a point in the New Year where it may be possible to get together in teams or larger groups.

While staff will of course understand that things cannot take place in the ‘normal way’, it is important for employers to find a way to show staff how appreciated and valued they are.


Many businesses may have had a tough year financially in 2020. Despite this, some will want to spread a little cheer amongst their employees by way of a gift. Whilst a different approach will likely need to be taken practically in terms of delivering the item to employees, there are still lots of options to treat staff and boost morale.

Businesses that have not suffered financially may want to consider awarding staff bonuses this Christmas, especially where they may be making savings from not holding other festive events. Whilst this is an area that needs to be approached with caution, particularly in terms of bonuses or gifts being seen as ‘customary’ and therefore an expected part of an employee’s annual package, as with most things this year, the rule book is perhaps a little bit different!

On this note, this year has been a tricky one for employers, especially where some staff have been placed on furlough and others have continued to work through. In the interests of trying to be fair, some employers may initially have topped up the pay of furloughed workers, leaving those that continued to work through the crisis perhaps feeling unfairly done by. In these circumstances, or where some members of staff have gone above and beyond to support the business during these times, employers may well want to find an extra way to show their appreciation whilst of course being careful not to treat some members of staff more favourably than others.

Unauthorised absence

The festive season is usually a time where employees may spend a little too much time indulging, which can sometimes lead to an increase in unauthorised absence during December. Whilst this year may be a bit different; with not all employees being required to actually attend a workplace; this doesn’t mean that unauthorised absence isn’t an issue. In fact, with many office-based employees still working from home, unauthorised absence may have been more difficult to monitor this year.

Our advice around this area remains the same as in any other year – be sure to adopt a sensible approach, retain fairness, and take a consistent approach with all employees.

Holiday entitlement 

With holidays abroad being cancelled for most of us this year, and even restrictions on UK-based breaks, seeing that staff take their holiday entitlement has been more of an uphill struggle than usual this year. Whilst employers should still have been encouraging workers to take their paid leave during 2020, this may not have been practicable in all circumstances.

Earlier in the year the government introduced a new law allowing employees and workers to carry over up to 4 weeks’ paid holiday into their next 2 holiday leave years. This is subject to specific criteria relating to coronavirus and does not apply to staff who simply chose not to take holidays in 2020 because there was nowhere to go.

Businesses may already have arrangements in place with staff to allow some carry over of untaken holidays. With many business holiday calendars running from January to December, employers will need to be mindful of the rules around holiday entitlement, so each member of staff is aware of their full complement of days in 2021.

Closure over the break

Despite many office-based businesses still operating on a ‘working from home’ basis, this does not mean that allowing a break for time off over Christmas should be any different to any other year. In fact, where a complete closure of a business for a few days or longer over Christmas is normal practice for a business, not taking the same action could be viewed very negatively by employees.

For businesses in the retail, beauty and hospitality sectors that have already had to endure several periods of enforced closure, things are likely to be viewed differently and businesses may choose to open on more days over Christmas than they normally would. Being sure to communicate well with staff and give plenty of notice should help to keep employees on side and willing to help.

For more help or advice in relation to HR-related issues, be they on a festive theme or not, please get in touch with us.