8 Christmas issues for employersDecember 1, 2017 6:27pm All News Stories Employment Law News
Christmas may be a time to eat, drink and be merry. But for employers, it can be one big HR headache.
Father Christmas may not be able to bring you a magic wand to make all your workplace issues disappear, but armed with the right knowledge (and support) we can help make Christmas as stress free as possible.
You may be getting snowed under with work and want your employees to work overtime, but can you force them to work extra hours? Employees will only be required to work overtime if their Contract of Employment clearly specifies this.
The Working Time Regulations say that employees cannot work more than an average of 48 hours per week. The average is worked out over a 17 week reference period. Check to see if there is a specific clause in the employment contracts you use which says the employee agrees to opt out of this 48-hour working time limit. But remember that the employee has the right to change their mind and give notice to that effect.
Your employees may receive Christmas gifts from clients or suppliers. It’s important for all organisations that the acceptance of these gifts does not give the appearance that they may be unduly influenced when making decisions.
You should remind employees of your rules on gifts. For example, all gifts and hospitality received, of whatever value, must be entered in a register and no personal gifts of a value in excess of set limit should be accepted without the express permission from their line manager.
- Bank Holidays
Whether an employee works or is given time off on the upcoming bank holidays will depend on their Contract of Employment. The employee’s contract may say something along the lines that in addition to all bank and public holidays, the employee is entitled to X working days of holiday or that the employee’s annual leave entitlement of X days is inclusive of bank and public holidays.
Employers are under no statutory obligation to pay extra for working on a bank holiday, but an employee may be entitled to more if this is stated in the Contract of Employment or based on customary arrangements.
- Dress code
People are winding down and dressing up. It’s Christmas jumper season. You may make some allowances, but in some cases, it’s not possible. For example, Health & Safety rules may dictate that employees must always wear protective clothing or for public facing roles, formal dress is necessary.
If an employee turns up to work wearing something that’s not in line with your dress code, you can pull them aside discretely and remind them of the policy and what is considered to be acceptable dress. For first minor breaches it may be inappropriate to formally discipline them, but if employees continue to not respect the dress code then you can take formal disciplinary action.
- Flu and colds
Unfortunately, it’s that time of year when people get colds, coughs and the flu. It’s good practice to promote good hygiene practices in the workplace to avoid the spreading of germs and to encourage the use of the flu vaccination.
Having a clear sick policy that outlines who the employee needs to call, how they should contact their manager, by what time they must notify their absence and the rules on Fit Notes is also essential.
- Poor attendance
If you suspect an employee is taking unauthorised absences, for example to indulge in some Christmas shopping, you should not turn a blind eye. You should conduct return to work interviews after each and every absence. If people know they will be lightly grilled when they come back into work, they may refrain from pulling ‘sickies’.
If the employee provides vague, inadequate or frankly illogical reasons for absences, you may wish to ask for medical evidence. This could help reduce absences as it suddenly dawns on the employee that they are unable to provide any real evidence.
In your sickness absence policy, you should set benchmarks, known as trigger points, for unacceptable levels of short and frequent sickness absence. If they reach these trigger points or you discover there are no legitimate reasons for absences, you’ll need to take formal action. Be careful if the absence is due to disability or pregnancy.
- Bad weather
Adverse weather conditions can mean employees find it hard to get into work.
You should try to be as flexible as possible. Employers have a duty to ensure the Health & Safety of their employees, so you should never encourage your employees to drive in dangerous weather conditions. Consider whether the employee can work from home or a work site that is closer to them or if they can make up the time at a later date.
It’s important to note that there is no automatic legal right to be paid if the employee cannot get into work and do their job, but you may be required to pay if you have any contractual or customary arrangements in place. If you decide that you will pay for absence as a result of bad weather or travel issues, make it clear to your employees that this is for a limited period only.
- Christmas bonus
If you have paid a Christmas for a significant number of years, but this year you decide you don’t want to, surely there are no unpleasant consequences that could arise? After all, there isn’t anything in their contract to say they are entitled to it. The truth is that if there is a long-standing or established custom or practice to pay a Christmas bonus, it may become an implied term of the employee’s Contract of Employment. In general, this will be the case where the practice
- is clear and certain
- is fair and reasonable
- has been going on for a long period of time (the law does not set out a specific length of time)
- is known to employees and they have a reasonable expectation of receiving it
- has been consistently applied to employees.
Seek legal advice if you find yourself in these circumstances.
And if you have your Christmas Party coming up…
Read our guidance here for some key tips to make sure you don’t stay the New Year with grievances and claims.
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