Employment Update – Festive Season: Employer Checklist

06 / 12 / 2017

The festive season is now upon us. It offers a wonderful opportunity to reward staff and to catch up with colleagues and clients in a more relaxed atmosphere as people reflect on the year’s hard work. If managed sensibly, this is an enjoyable time for all. However, this period can also throw up a number of challenges and it is therefore essential that businesses are clear as to what they expect of staff and that appropriate procedures and guidelines are in place. So what are the potential pitfalls?

Alcohol: in party season there is an expectation that alcohol may be involved. There should be clear guidelines as to whether an individual is allowed to drink and what behaviour is expected of them. These guidelines should be applied consistently across the workforce. Careful consideration should be given as to whether staff should be banned from sending work related emails after team or client events and appropriate work cover should be put in place to cover this period.

Agile working: as businesses become technologically savvy, the ability to work remotely increases. This is a positive for all parties. Workers like the flexibility whilst businesses reap the benefits of increased productivity and reduced downtime created by travel disruptions.  As we get into these winter months, with work events and personal commitments the temptation to work at home increases. It is therefore important that there are clear rules around when people can work remotely and how they report in to the office as monitoring staff remotely can be problematic.

Adverse weather: the odds of a White Christmas this year have fallen dramatically. The risk of snow and ice brings the risk of travel disruption. If workers cannot attend work, what contingencies do you have in place? Can you bring in additional help? Can you cancel the holidays of colleagues who can make it in? Can people work remotely? For those who can’t make it in, do you need to pay salary or can you force them to take holiday or unpaid leave?

Equal Opportunities: the issue of sexual harassment has never had as much mainstream focus. With the flurry of festive parties ahead, it is imperative that workers are made aware of the standards which they are expected to maintain. Alcohol can negatively impair judgment but that is no excuse for unwanted behaviour. If incidents do occur, they should be treated seriously and not brushed under the carpet. Workers need to have clear routes to report bad behaviour. Businesses also have to be sensitive to all religions. Some workers may not celebrate Christmas so it is important to avoid them feeling marginalised at this time of year or to force them to do anything which in anyway offends their beliefs.

Holiday: hopefully rotas are now finalised. However, it is worth revisiting your policy to ensure that you have the rights to manage your workforce effectively during this period. How do you deal with competing holiday requests? Do you have a right to cancel holiday due to a surge in work demands? What if someone falls ill whilst on holiday? If you close the office over the festive period, do you have a contractual right to require workers to take leave during this period?

Sickness: although most sickness will be genuine, there will be a temptation to ‘throw a sickie’ rather than face the alarm clock after a late night partying. Misusing sick leave could constitute disciplinary action but this can be difficult to prove. You should therefore ensure that proper sickness reporting procedures are in place. Does the worker have to call their line manager or have they fallen into the habit of hiding behind a text or email? Would a return to work interview help reduce the risk of absenteeism? If workers are expecting a big night, they should be encouraged to book holiday subject to business needs.

Social Media: every moment of a night out is now carefully catalogued on smartphones. Whilst a laugh at the time, finding cringe inducing pictures plastered all over Facebook and Instagram the following morning can be mortifying. It can also be damaging to a business’s reputation. If a worker elects to connect with a client on social media, they should be expected to uphold the image of the business and it is important that those guidelines are clearly defined.

Now is an ideal time to review and consider whether your contractual documentation and employee handbook are up to date and fit for purpose. If you need any assistance, we are happy to help.