Christmas Advice for Employers

Christmas time is filled with doubts and concerns for the employer who tends to spend much of his or her time during the festive season run-up dealing with all sorts of issues such as annual leave requests, overtime grievances and disciplinary issues.

Now is a good time to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead and to help you we've summarised five of the most common problems faced by employers at this time of year, together with advice on how to deal with them.

1. Social Events

Employers have a duty of care towards their workforce and the Equality Act makes employers liable for acts of harassment, victimisation and discrimination during the course of employment, although if evidence can be provided that reasonable steps were taken to prevent such acts then it may be possible to avert any action.

Action to take: ensure you have a set policy on workplace social events and evidence that it is enforced.

2. Overtime

Providing your contracts of employment incorporate clauses that require employees to work overtime as and when required, then you can expect your staff to agree to overtime over the festive period. If they refuse then you will usually be within your rights to discipline them.

Action to take: check your contracts to ensure you have stipulated that your workers must undertake overtime during busy periods before attempting to enforce it.

3. Annual Leave Requests

Many employees have a desire to take holidays during the festive period so they can spend time with their families. However, unless there is a contractual agreement, they are not within their rights to insist upon it and must provide notice equal to twice the length of the leave they are looking to take.

Employers are then able to put a counter notice forward stating that the leave has been refused, providing the counter notice matches the length of the leave requested and the staff member is not being prevented from taking leave they are entitled to within that holiday year. You'll need to present valid reasons if you want to refuse an employee who has enough leave accrued and who has given reasonable notice.

Action to take: be clear on the annual leave allowances and policies you have incorporated into your workers' contracts. Never refuse leave without valid reason.

4. Late to Work

It is not uncommon for workers to turn up late the next day following the annual Christmas party. But what is the employer's position?

Employers have a right to make deductions from workers' pay if they are late to work, providing there is a clause in the employment contract allowing them to make deductions from wages for unauthorised absence.

Action to take: make sure your employment contracts include such a clause, and that your disciplinary policy states that non-attendance following any form of staff event could lead to disciplinary action.

5. Annual Leave Requirements

For some businesses, the Christmas and New Year period is the ideal time to shut down and many employers require workers to reserve annual leave to take at this time of year.

As long as it is stipulated in the contract of employment, employers are able to stipulate when leave should be taken.

Action: ensure your contracts of employment and holiday policy stipulate any particular requirements you have concerning the need for staff to reserve a certain amount of their annual leave to cover the Christmas and New Year shut down period.

If you are in any way concerned about dealing with staff issues over the festive period, why not talk to your bookkeepers in the first instance? They'll be able to set you straight on the key rules and, if necessary, refer you on for legal advice.

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