Updated for 2019 is our 3-part Employers’ Guide to Christmas.  A time of year that can have a massive impact on UK businesses either with an increased demand for products and services, or a winding down as focus shifts in your industry.  On the other hand, it’s also a period of frenzy while employees scramble to use annual leave over the same period of time.  Whether your business steps up activity, or closes down for a break altogether, the key is planning ahead.

Annual Leave, Sickness Absence and Christmas Bonus Payments

After planning the office Christmas party, and dealing with disciplinary issues in line with Christmas celebrations, the final instalment of our Employers’ Guide to Christmas provides tips and advice for managing holiday requests and sickness absence during the festive season as well as your obligations for paying Christmas bonuses.

Christmas Bank Holidays and Annual Leave Requests

Your company 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 down for the holidays (essentially forcing employees to use some of their holiday allowance), it should be clearly stated in your annual leave 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 initially to draw up a rota detailing the days your business will be open and request volunteers to work.  Otherwise if you have 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 however Christmas time is also the time for seasonal illnesses and festive over indulgence.

Whilst you may decide to exercise some leniency, 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 has 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.

Christmas Bonuses

Providing a Christmas bonus is a long established custom for many companies with a view to motivating staff and increasing performance. However, are employers obliged to give their staff a bonus at Christmas time?  The answer lies within the individual’s contract of employment.

There are two types of bonus scheme:

  • Contractual Bonuses

If it is stated in an employee’s contract of employment that a Christmas bonus will be paid then the employers must do so to avoid a breach of contract.

  • Discretionary Bonuses

As long as the terms of a discretionary bonus scheme are clearly set out in contracts of employment and accompanying documentation, an employer can use his or her discretion when deciding to reduce or withhold bonus payments.  For example if you regularly give your staff a Christmas bonus and then one year you are unable to do so as business has been slow, an employee could bring a claim for the payment if you fail to state that the bonus is discretionary.

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 and therefore it’s probably not the best time to schedule new projects or big deadlines if they can be avoided.  Be sensitive to those that find this time of year of difficult and be prepared to be flexible, avoiding most of the festive pitfalls.  As always our employment law team is just a phone call away should you require any further advice.

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

The Backhouse Solicitors Team

Tel:         01245 893400

Email:    info@backhouse-solicitors.co.uk

Web:      www.backhouse-solicitors.co.uk