Christmas can be a minefield for employers – Christmas parties can bring up issues of conduct, discrimination and non-attendance, and holiday and overtime issues can also arise at this time. When approaching the Christmas season, you should make sure that all your relevant policies are up to date, and that employees and managers are aware of them.

What should you do to prepare?

  • Make sure that managers are familiar with your policies on Christmas parties, work social events and annual leave
  • Prepare a statement to employees in advance of a Christmas party or similar work-related events to ensure they are aware of your guidelines on acceptable conduct, including the dangers of excess alcohol consumption and behaviours that can be viewed as harassment
  • Put in place a policy on workplace events – as an employer you have a duty of care towards your employees, and the Equality Act 2010 makes employers liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation carried out by employees in the course of employment, unless you can show they took reasonable steps to prevent such acts.

Are you responsible for what happens at a Christmas party?

You can be, yes as legislation refers to the term “in the course of employment”.

Can you take disciplinary action for misconduct after a Christmas party?

Yes, if the incident is likely to have an impact on the working situation.

Can you ask employees to work overtime in the run-up to Christmas?

As long as your contract of employment includes a clause requiring employees to work overtime, yes you can, and you can take disciplinary action if an employee refuses to do so.

Can an employee insist on taking holidays during the Christmas period?

No. In the absence of an agreement to the contrary, employees must give notice equal to twice the length of the holiday that they wish to take. You can then give counter notice requiring that the leave not be taken, so long as this counter notice is equivalent to the length of the holiday requested, and the employee is not prevented from taking the leave to which he or she is entitled in that holiday year. Where an employee has accrued untaken leave and gives reasonable notice to take the leave, you must have valid business reasons for refusing the employee’s request. Where an employee insists on taking leave and does so without approval, approach the issue sensibly and be careful not to impose a disproportionate penalty on the employee.

What if an employee comes to work late or not at all the day after the Christmas party?

You can make deductions from employees’ pay if they turn up for work late the morning after the company Christmas party as long as the right to make deductions from wages for unauthorised absence is reserved in the employment contract. You can also ask them to make up the time that they have missed, or take the time as annual leave

If disciplinary action is to be taken for lateness or non-attendance after the Christmas party, you should ensure that staff are informed beforehand that this is a possibility. Where an employee does not attend due to illness, you should follow your attendance management policy and procedures.

Can you require employees to take annual leave during the Christmas period?

If you have a shutdown over the Christmas period, you will need to put in place arrangements requiring employees to take annual leave at this time and allocate a certain amount of days leave to a particular time.  You will need to give notice that is at least double the period of leave that the employee is required to take and build the requirement into your holiday policy.

What if travel disruption or bad weather delays an employee returning to work following the Christmas break?

While there is no obligation to pay employees who fail to attend work due to public transport or weather issues, you may want to offer flexibility and alternative options, such as allowing the employee to work from home or from another location, make up the time later, or take the time as paid annual leave. Make sure your employees are aware of your policies on travel disruption and bad weather.

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