5 top tips to keep your staff happy this Christmas
The festive period is often a time when staff are in good spirits and looking forward to the Christmas break. However, as an employer you have to manage staff holiday requests, avoid religious discrimination and make sure staff behaviour appropriately at social events, when often the consumption of alcohol is involved.
Here are our 5 top tips to help you manage your staff this Christmas.
1. Religious Discrimination
Christmas is a traditional Christian holiday, which not all religions celebrate. You may therefore receive requests from employees asking to work Christmas day and take another day off instead. Christmas is one of the 8 public holidays set out in UK law. You are entitled to require staff to take holidays on certain days. If you want these to be the 8 public holidays then set this out in the contract.
Alternatively, you may receive requests for days off on other religious dates. To avoid religious discrimination such requests should be granted from the normal leave entitlement unless you can objectively justify any refusal. For example, an employer’s refusal to grant an employee five weeks leave for a religious festival was not deemed discriminatory by the employment appeal tribunal. The tribunal did not believe that the festival was a manifestation of the employee’s religious beliefs; more that he wished to spend time with his family.
The other issue is Christmas cards. If you send out cards to staff or clients, consider using neutral phrases such as ‘seasons greetings’ or ‘happy holidays’.
2. Christmas Parties
The main issue that arises at Christmas parties is the consumption of alcohol that could lead to inappropriate behaviour, namely bullying, sexual harassment, offensive comments or physical assault.
In a recent Court of Appeal decision, an employer was held vicariously liable when a managing director punched an employee leaving him severely disabled. The incident happened after a work’s Christmas party; the managing director invited staff back to the hotel for further drinks, much of which the company paid for. The employee had challenged the managing director over a comment he made; the managing director took offence and punched the employee, not once but twice.
Before social events:
- Remind staff of the relevant policies on anti-bullying and harassment;
- Explain what the consequences will be if anyone behaves inappropriately;
- Warn staff about consuming too much alcohol;
- Ensure managers are trained and aware of the above.
Also limit the amount of alcohol the company provides at events and avoid free bars.
If you are alerted to any issues, deal with them quickly and fairly. You may not be able to determine whether or not an act occurred, but the way in which you conduct any investigations or meetings can also be held to scrutiny by the tribunals and can lead to allegations of discrimination, victimisation and unfair constructive dismissal.
Remember your anti-bullying and harassment policy is not just for Christmas. In order to defend vicarious liability claims you should be training staff and managers all year round.
3. Holiday Requests
During the festive period, you will no doubt receive many requests from employees wishing to take time off between Christmas and New Year. If you require a skeleton staff in the office during this period, you will not be able to give everyone time off.
We recommend having a policy in place to ensure requests are dealt with fairly and consistently. Avoid a first come, first serve policy for Christmas as this could lead to unfairness. Often employers will state employees have to work alternative Christmases or ask for all requests by a deadline and then see what you can offer and what people took off the year before.
4. Christmas Shutdowns
Alternatively, you may choose to shut down over the Christmas period. As set out above, an employer has a right to tell employees when holiday must be taken. We advise stating this in the contract from the outset. Alternatively, you can give notice; such notice must be at least twice the length of the period of leave required.
If you do shut down you need to decide whether to give the three days as extra holidays for staff or require staff to save three days from their holiday entitlement. Make it clear that if staff fail to save the required leave from their entitlement then they will not be paid for the time off during the shutdown. Again, set this out in the contract.
5. Working Christmas day
Your business may require staff to work on Christmas day, such as hospitals, care homes, pubs and restaurants. Again the fairest way to deal with this is on an alternative rota system basis or asking staff what leave they want and then allocating shifts as fairly as possible. Some staff may be happy to work if you are paying overtime and you may therefore be able to cover the shifts without having to deny holiday requests.
Consider individuals’ religious beliefs. To refuse a request not to work on Christmas day from a practicing Christian could lead to allegations of religious discrimination. As above, you need to be able to objectively justify any refusal to grant the leave.
Above all, try to relax and enjoy the festive season. Season’s greetings and best wishes to you all.
Laura Pearce, Senior Solicitor
Please note that the information contained in this article was correct at the time of writing. There may have been updates to the law since the article was written, which may affect the information and advice given therein.