Almost every employer I meet wants to be a ‘good’ employer. In this day and age, there are very few Scrooges around, but at Xmas time there is a balance to be had between the needs of the business and the needs and wants of the employees. Getting this balance right is not written in law, there is often no right and wrong and there is certainly no golden formula.
I am going to raise more questions than I answer here because there is no one size fits all solution. You know your business and what it needs, how you deliver that is based on your policies, procedures, staff, culture, business needs and attitude to risk.
The overriding element to consider is not putting your business at risk. The risk of discrimination, the risk of a vicarious liability claim or even corporate manslaughter! Your contract of employment and employee handbook (if you have one) should be your guide to some extent; the rules still apply and are not thrown out the window just because it’s Christmas.
This can be a contentious issue as many staff will want leave around the same time. How you manage this will depend on a number of elements:
- Are you closing the office over the festive period?
- If so, make sure you communicate this well in advance
- Tell staff whether this is in addition to, or part of their annual leave entitlement
- Do you need business to continue as normal, perhaps because you are a 24/7 operation?
- Set the rules, communicate them and then apply them consistently across the business
- Consider people’s religious needs and their right to family life
- Look at what the business actually needs and the service levels expected by your customers
- If you have people of different faiths working in the business, some may be quite happy to work over the Christmas period but would like time off around their own religious holidays
- If you need staff to work Christmas Day, Boxing Day, on the 27th December (which this year is a substitute day) and on New Year’s Day and 2nd January (again a substitute day), consider asking people to work in rotas so that they do not have to work on all of the public / bank holidays.
- If you have people of no faith, they must not lose out on holiday entitlement when extra holiday is given on Religious grounds
- Part-timers are only entitled to a pro rata amount of time off and should not be given a disproportionate amount of extra time off, otherwise, it is your full-time employees who have a potential claim
- What does your annual leave policy say about notice of leave, booking and authorisation of holidays, carry forward of accrued holiday and working on bank holidays
- Do you need an on-call rota?
- If you decide to shut the office, do you still need cover and who will provide that cover?
- Can they do so from home?
- Will you require them to be sober at all times and able to jump into a car and get to the office in less than an hour?
- Will you pay staff for being on call, or only if they are actually called on to work?
- What about people who are happy to work but who can’t because the office is closed and who are therefore forced to use annual leave?
Ask yourself the questions, decide on the answers, communicate them and then apply them consistently. If in doubt, get some advice, you need to tell your staff what you want and not the other way round.
Most companies still hold some form of Christmas lunch, dinner or party, although fewer and fewer are spending thousands on them like they were 10 – 15 years ago. Key considerations are:
- Alcohol vs no alcohol
- Most companies will allow staff to drink alcohol at Christmas events whereas they may not allow staff to drink alcohol (at work) at other times
- If drinking at lunchtime, is the business going to close in the afternoon or will staff be going back to work under the influence? For some businesses, this may not be an issue, but if you employ staff who drive vehicles, operate heavy machinery or are in highly pressurised environments, you need to plan for the disruption to operations
- Even if your party is in an evening, will staff be expected to work the next day and what are the penalties for those who call in sick as a result of too much alcohol the night before
- There is an increasing number of people who do not drink for health or religious reasons, how are these members of staff treated and provided for?
- Venue and transport home
- Employers do have a responsibility to ensure that staff are able to get home safely. In some cases, coaches are laid on and in some cases discounted hotel rooms are reserved or taxi cabs booked
- The venue needs to be appropriate for all staff and food options need to be able to cater for all requirements – religious, health and personal choice
- Partners or no partners
- Whether to invite partners or not is always contentious. I have worked with businesses where staff will not attend unless partners are invited and others who absolutely do not want partners ‘hanging around’. The decision on whether to invite partners will be based on the number of people within your business, your previous involvement with partners, the culture within the business and your venue / budget.
- Again, be consistent. Either invite everyone to bring partners or nobody, don’t pick and choose.
- Company paid / subsidised vs employee paid
- This will almost always depend on your budget and there is no hard and fast rule.
- There is a tax benefit for staff entertainment up to certain limits and some companies will pay for the party to enable them to fully utilise this benefit
- For companies who allow partners, the employee is often company paid and the partner is employee paid
- Penalties for bad behaviour
- I recently heard a story where the senior partner of a City Accountancy firm with responsibility for staff ‘mooned’ on the coach on the way back from the Christmas party. His credibility was shot and he had to relinquish his HR remit.
- I have also recently been dealing with a situation where the excesses of alcohol served at work resulted in employees sleeping together which then caused significant problems back in the workplace
- At the end of the day, your employees are adults and need to be treated as such, but if they breach your code of conduct, bring your company into disrepute or act in a way which jeopardises your business, you need to take action – you still have a business to run in the new year!