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HR challenges during Christmas

HR challenges during Christmas

December is here! It’s our favourite time of the year here at Lanshaws – who doesn’t love Christmas! However, during the Christmas period employers can face a minefield of HR challenges. How well prepared is your business for the festive season?

We’ve set out our essential festive advice for employers...

As a manager you should familiarise yourself with your employer’s policy on Christmas parties or work social events. Employers may consider the option of issuing a statement to employees in advance of a Christmas party or similar work-related event, to remind employees of conduct matters. This may include the dangers of excess alcohol consumption, or behaviours that could be viewed as harassment.

As an employer, it is your job to maintain a policy because you have a duty of care towards staff. The Equality Act 2010 makes employers liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation carried out by their employees in the course of employment, unless they can show that they took reasonable steps to prevent such acts.

If an employee acts inappropriately, they can be disciplined for misconduct after a Christmas party - if the incident is sufficiently closely connected to work to have had an impact on the working situation.

In terms of religious discrimination, it’s unlikely that holding a Christmas party should cause an issue because generally these parties are more about having a staff get-together and boosting morale than celebrating religion. However, employers should keep a policy on religious observance during working hours and be supportive towards employees whose religious festivals fall at different times of the year.

Employees cannot insist on taking holidays during the Christmas period. In the absence of an agreement to the contrary, workers must give notice equal to twice the length of the holiday that they wish to take. Where an employee has accrued untaken leave and gives reasonable notice to the employer to take the leave, the employer must have valid business reasons for refusing the employee’s request to take leave.

There is no statutory right to having time off during bank holidays; it all depends on the contractual arrangements regarding bank holiday working. Also there is no statutory requirement to pay staff extra for bank holiday working, but employers should observe contractual terms or custom and practice regarding pay rates.

Another issue that can arise is if a Christian employee refuses to work on a Christmas bank holiday. As an employer you should be aware of their obligations under the Equality Act 2010, which protects workers against direct and indirect discrimination because of their religion.

While an employee does not have the explicit right to time off for religious observance, a refusal to grant Christian employees time off for any of the bank holidays with religious significance could amount to indirect religious discrimination. If you don’t already have a policy on religious holidays you may want to consider introducing one.