Twelve top tips to avoid employment law headaches this festive season

By Baines Wilson LLP

06 Dec 2019

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As December is upon us, we have considered our 12 top tips to avoid employment law headaches this festive season…

12 Written warnings

The Christmas party is one of the biggest social events in the calendar. It gives both employers and employees the opportunity to socialise, relax and build team relationships.

However, the Christmas ‘do’ is an extension of the workplace, if it has been organised and paid for by the employer.

It should be remembered that employers can be held vicariously liable for any discriminatory acts by their employees, if they have not been advised how to behave appropriately at work.

It is worth reminding employees that as the Christmas party is an extension of the workplace, any issues will be dealt with in the same way as if it had happened in the office.

11 Festive Eggnogs

Many people enjoy letting their hair down and may have a drink or two at either the work’s Christmas party or at other social gatherings they are expected to attend as part of their job. 

Most issues at this time of year arise because of excessive drinking and it is not uncommon to see allegations of harassment, discrimination, threatening behaviour and physical violence flowing from them.

It may be sensible to limit the amount of alcohol that is freely available at social functions and remind employees they are still ‘at work’ even if they are attending a social event with e.g. a customer.

10 Christmas jumpers

Many employers may choose to relax their dress policy at this time of year, inviting casual dress and Christmas jumpers, especially on Christmas Jumper Day! Be careful about the wording you use when notifying staff of this to ensure casual and Christmas dress is optional.

It is important to be sensitive to employees who do not celebrate Christmas and may not want to join in with celebrating the festivities. Employers should be sensitive towards other religious beliefs and ensure that all employees are treated fairly and equally.

9 Hangovers 

Make employees aware of the consequences if they over indulge. It should not affect their ability to do their job the next day.

8 Post party absences 

For many the temptation to “pull a sickie” is strong. Usual sickness policies apply during the festive period and should continue to be managed fairly and consistently for all employees. 

Employees should be reminded that any unauthorised absence may be treated as a disciplinary matter.

7 Party Poopers 

You could consider nominating individuals to remain sober at the Christmas party to keep an eye on the festivities and to prevent any issues escalating.

6 Promotions

Avoid discussions relating to bonuses, salary, promotions or future prospects with employees whilst under the influence of alcohol! It may seem like a good topic of conversation after a few mulled wines but remember that promises relating to pay and promotion can be contractually binding as verbal agreements.

5 Snow days 

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? It is important to have a clear policy for dealing with weather disruptions. 

Any policy should set out what you expect from your employees in the event of adverse weather, bearing in mind health and safety obligations but also remembering that if an employee cannot get to work because of bad weather, they are not automatically entitled to be paid. You should consider whether employees can work from home or take holiday as an alternative. 

4 Drink drivers 

Despite all the warnings every year many drivers still overdo the alcohol and all too often are caught still under the influence the morning after the night before. Discourage employees from drink driving and remind them to be careful. 

Employers should consider making it a contractual requirement for employees to notify them immediately of any drink driving conviction during their employment and implement an alcohol abuse policy,  drugs and alcohol policy. 

Employers should also make it clear via their contracts of employment or policies that a drink driving conviction may lead to disciplinary action under the disciplinary procedure which could lead to termination of employment.

3 Facebook photos 

Is your social media policy up to date? 

Few employees realise the potential damage that can be done by their use of social media during and after the office party or that it could possibly result in them losing their jobs.  Even fewer realise that if what they have posted or uploaded concerns a colleague, they could end up getting their employer in trouble too.

Dismissing an employee because of what they have put on their private social media pages may be justified if an employer can establish they have a legitimate and justified reason to dismiss an employee to protect its own rights – normally its own reputation in cases where the employee identifies the employer on their social media profiles.

2 Holidays 

Many employees will be eager to take time off to be with their families over the Christmas period but obviously, not every member of staff can have the same time off. Employers should ensure that there is a procedure in place for requesting holiday. Remember, an employer is entitled to refuse holiday requests.

And an Office Christmas Partyyyy!

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