CHRISTMAS | FAQ for Employers

All I want for Christmas is... answers!

Christmas is a jolly time, but it also throws up lots of concerns for employers. 

Read our FAQs to obtain some all-important answers to your HR and Employment Law questions.

Avoid an HR Headache this Christmas!

What do I do if one of my employees turns up to work drunk?

With Christmas dinner and boozy nights outs, it’s easy to have one too many. People often forget that alcohol remains in the bloodstream for up to 24 hours following consumption and that the consumption of a significant amount of alcohol in the evening may leave them unfit to work in the morning.

You will need to refer to your alcohol and drug policy which should be in your Employee Handbook. The policy should clearly state that if an employee reports for work when unfit due to the influence of alcohol, this may be regarded as a gross misconduct offence.

advice for outside cold workers

What is the minimum temperature permitted in the workplace?

Employers have a legal obligation to ensure that there is a “reasonable” temperature in the workplace. The law does not set minimum or maximum working temperatures, but it is recommended that it is a minimum of 16ºC or 13ºC if employees are undertaking physical work.

Bad weather

Adverse weather conditions can mean employees find it hard to get into work.

You should try to be as flexible as possible. Employers have a duty to ensure the Health & Safety of their employees, so you should never encourage your employees to drive in dangerous weather conditions. Consider whether the employee can work from home or a work site that is closer to them or if they can make up the time at a later date.

It’s important to note that there is no automatic legal right to be paid if the employee cannot get into work and do their job, but you may be required to pay if you have any contractual or customary arrangements in place. If you decide that you will pay for absence as a result of bad weather or travel issues, make it clear to your employees that this is for a limited period only.

We have always paid a Christmas bonus, but this year we have decided we don’t want to. Can we just stop paying it?

If there is a long-standing or established custom or practice to pay a Christmas bonus, it may become an implied term of the employee’s Contract of Employment. This means that although the contract does not expressly say this, it can form part of the contract. This is known as custom and practice. Speak to an Employment Law Adviser to discuss this further.

I have caught a few of my employees doing some online shopping during working time. What can I deter this behaviour?  

You should have a policy in place which deals with internet, phone and email use at work. It should clearly state that excessive personal use during working hours will be treated as misconduct and thereby they could find themselves subject to disciplinary action. Nobody wants to be disciplined so a reminder of the rules can help them deter them from subsequent attempts to do some shopping whilst at work.

It’s been a really busy time for the business. Can I force my employees to work overtime?

Employees will only be required to work overtime if their Contract of Employment clearly specifies this. You may be getting snowed under with work and want your employees to work overtime, but can you force them to work extra hours? Employees will only be required to work overtime if their Contract of Employment clearly specifies this.The Working Time Regulations say that employees cannot work more than an average of 48 hours per week. The average is worked out over a 17 week reference period. Check to see if there is a specific clause in the employment contracts you use which says the employee agrees to opt out of this 48-hour working time limit. But remember that the employee has the right to change their mind and give notice to that effect.

Most of my employees want to have Christmas off. How do I deal with competing leave requests fairly?

If you are dealing with numerous requests, here are some tips: 

  • If your organisation is open all year round with no seasonable shutdowns, you could also consider allowing people to choose between time off at Christmas and summer. So if someone does not get the time off they requested at Christmas, they could be given priority when they are booking leave for their summer holiday.
  • In your workplace rules, you can impose limits on how many consecutive days of leave an employee may take at one time. This stops you being without valuable members for extended periods of time.
  • Encourage collaboration. For employees who are parents, they will be particular keen to have time off during half terms and the long summer break; therefore you should encourage teams to collaborate with each other to coordinate leave. This will ensure operational requirements are met and issues are quickly resolved.
  • Periodically review whether employees have taken leave. If they have a lot of leave still to take, remind them of how much leave they still have to take before the holiday year ends.
  • Be fair and consistent in the way you allocate the requests.

Do you have a specific question?

Our Employment Law Advisers are HR experts who can help you keep headaches, handovers and trouble away this Christmas. Contact us to find out how we can support you.

How do I put a stop to poor attendance?

If you suspect an employee is taking unauthorised absences, for example to indulge in some Christmas shopping, you should not turn a blind eye. You should conduct return to work interviews after each and every absence. If people know they will be lightly grilled when they come back into work, they may refrain from pulling ‘sickies’.

If the employee provides vague, inadequate or frankly illogical reasons for absences, you may wish to ask for medical evidence. This could help reduce absences as it suddenly dawns on the employee that they are unable to provide any real evidence.

In your sickness absence policy, you should set benchmarks, known as trigger points, for unacceptable levels of short and frequent sickness absence. If they reach these trigger points or you discover there are no legitimate reasons for absences, you’ll need to take formal action. Be careful if the absence is due to disability or pregnancy.

What's the best approach to gifts from clients?

Your employees may receive Christmas gifts from clients or suppliers. It’s important for all organisations that the acceptance of these gifts does not give the appearance that they may be unduly influenced when making decisions.

You should remind employees of your rules on gifts. For example, all gifts and hospitality received, of whatever value, must be entered in a register and no personal gifts of a value in excess of set limit should be accepted without the express permission from their line manager. Read more about Christmas gifts and clients now.

christmas gifts

Dress code

People are winding down and dressing up. It’s Christmas jumper season. You may make some allowances, but in some cases, it’s not possible. For example, Health & Safety rules may dictate that employees must always wear protective clothing or for public facing roles, formal dress is necessary.

If an employee turns up to work wearing something that’s not in line with your dress code, you can pull them aside discretely and remind them of the policy and what is considered to be acceptable dress. For first minor breaches it may be inappropriate to formally discipline them, but if employees continue to not respect the dress code then you can take formal disciplinary action.

Other things to consider

As well as the FAQs above don’t forget that you should consider how best to approach bank holidays and sickness absence due to flu and colds.