Part Two: Disciplinary Issues, Managing Leave and Sickness Absence

In this part 2 of our Employers’ Guide to Christmas, we look at what employers need to do if things don’t quite go according to plan during the festive season.

We discuss how to deal with disciplinary issues following the Christmas party, dealing with leave requests and managing sickness absence which may or may not be related to the party!

Update your Policies and Procedures

If it’s been a while since the last update, Christmas is a good time to ensure that your policies and procedures are up to date in case they are needed over the festive period.  Particularly relevant are disciplinary policies and procedures, social event policies, sickness, bad weather and absence policies.

Dealing with Disciplinary Issues after your party

Firstly, let’s look at the least serious issue.  There will inevitably be a few employees who overindulge on the festive booze and fail to make it to work on time (or at all) the next day.  If your party is being held on a weeknight you may wish to give some thought to what might happen the following day.

If your business allows, consider letting your staff start an hour or two later than normal.  If that’s not possible, ensure that everyone is aware of the consequences of failing to turn up to work due to excessive alcohol consumption.  A hangover is generally not an acceptable reason for sickness absence, regardless of it being Christmas time!  If you consider this a disciplinary issue, explain what action will be taken.

You can make deductions from an employee’s pay if they turn up for work late so long as the right to make deductions for unauthorised absence is specified in their contract of employment.

Unfortunately, more serious issues are not uncommon and need handling properly.  Grievances received following a work-related social event should be treated in exactly the same way as if the incident had happened in the workplace.  As an employer, it is your duty to follow up and ensure that they are investigated efficiently and fairly.  Be consistent with your approach.  Downplaying or overlooking events from a Christmas party may lead to bigger problems further down the line if similar events occur in the workplace.

In our experience, most issues with Christmas parties involve either fighting or inappropriate sexual behaviour, both of which are serious events.  Failing to deal with them properly could lead to expensive claims against the business and potentially against the employees involved personally, so take legal advice and don’t try to sweep the issue under the carpet and hope it will go away.

Christmas Bank Holidays and Annual Leave Requests

Your company’s annual leave policy will provide guidance on the procedure staff should follow to book time off work.  If you need to restrict leave over the Christmas and New Year period, or if your business is closing for the holidays (essentially forcing employees to use some of their holiday allowance), it should be clearly stated in the policy and contracts of employment.

If your business will be open over the festive period, you will need to plan ahead to organise cover.  You may find it useful to draw up a rota detailing the days your business will be open and request volunteers to work.  Otherwise, if you need to select staff, you must ensure that the selection methods are fair.  It may not always be possible to grant everyone’s holiday requests, but the key is to try and find some middle ground whilst treating all staff fairly and consistently.  Keep records that can be consulted when deciding future rotas so that you can justify your decisions.

It is important to remember that:

  • Unless employment contracts state otherwise, your employees do not have the right to have either day away from work or taken as paid time off.
  • There is no legal right to paid leave for public holidays.  Any right to paid time off for these holidays depends on the terms of an employee’s contract.
  • Public holidays can be counted towards an employee’s statutory 28 days of paid holiday.

Sickness Absence

Dealing with sickness absence at any time of year can be difficult for employers and whilst you may decide to exercise some leniency around Christmas time, bear in mind that productivity and morale can suffer if there are high levels of employee absenteeism.  At the same time, you must ensure that your employees are “fit to work”.  For example, a hangover is generally not an adequate reason for sickness absence, however, think about how this could affect your business if the employee is required to operate machinery or is constantly running to the bathroom to be sick.

A gentle reminder in the run up to Christmas may be all that is required to confirm that the company sickness and absence policy still applies, and additionally your staff have a responsibility to ensure that they are fit to perform the role they are employed to do.  Specify that any unauthorised absences or patterns of absence may result in disciplinary proceedings.

We’re here to help if you need us!

Our Employers’ Guide to Christmas may leave you feeling that organising the office Christmas party is a daunting prospect but if you follow our tips and advice there is no reason why your event will not be a highly enjoyable occasion (and earn you a few brownie points with your staff!).

As an employer, the key to enjoying a hassle-free Christmas is to plan ahead and try to find the happy medium between work and play.  December can be a disruptive month, so be sensitive to those who find this time of year difficult and be prepared to be flexible, avoiding the festive pitfalls.  As always, our employment law team is just a phone call away if you need any expert advice.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a very restful New Year!

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