For many, Christmas is a time for celebration, being with family and enjoying a break from work.  For employers though it can raise some questions about the right actions to take in the workplace and it’s a good idea to have thought some of these issues through in advance.

Here are some thoughts and advice on a few common points that might arise:

1. What preparation can I do to try and ensure that the festive season in the workplace goes off without a hitch?

Consider issuing a communication to employees in advance of the Christmas party to let them know the arrangements for the event but also use it as an opportunity to remind them of the dangers of excess alcohol and the kind of behaviours that may be viewed as harassment.

As good practice, you may also want to think about putting a policy in place on workplace social events to cover your duty of care for employees under the Equality Act 2010.  Under this act an employer is liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation carried out by employees in the ‘course of employment’ unless the employer has taken reasonable steps to prevent such acts.

2. What do I do if a member of staff is sick and/or absent after our Christmas party?

You need to apply your normal sickness policy and procedures.

3. As an employer, am I responsible for anything that happens at our Christmas party?

It is best to make an assumption that you would be liable.  The term ‘in the course of employment’ is referred to in law and in the case of the Chief Constable of the Lincolnshire Police v Stubbs and other, a police officer said that he was sexually harassed outside of working hours in a pub by work colleagues. The Employment Appeal Tribunal found that social events away from work where they take place either immediately after work or for an organised leaving party came under the remit of ‘course of employment’.

4. Should I deal with requests for annual leave any differently at this time of year?

Follow your organisation’s normal policy for booking time off on annual leave, although you may want to be a little more flexible at this time of year about issues such as the number of people allowed to be off at the same time.  On the other hand, this may be one of your busiest times and as such you may need to restrict the number of people taking leave.  It is best to try and plan your business needs as early as possible and come to an agreement with employees.

Contracts of employment can state restrictions on taking leave; restrictions can also be implied through custom and practice or part of a collective agreement that is incorporated into individual contracts.

The kind of restrictions you may need to consider include:

If a situation arises where an employee takes leave without approval, the matter should be addressed with caution so that the penalty is not disproportionate.

In the case of Stott v Next Retail Ltd. the employee did not turn up for work on Christmas Eve without permission and was subsequently dismissed.  The employer was found by the employment tribunal to have dismissed Stott unfairly.

5. What if one of my Christian employees refuses to work on the bank holidays at Christmas?

Under the Equality Act 2010 your employees are protected from direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of their region.  There is no right to time off for religious observance but refusing to allow a Christian employee time off for bank holidays with a religious connection could be seen as indirect religious discrimination.

6. If we have a workplace Christmas party are we discriminating against other religions?

Office Christmas parties are not usually about celebrating the Christian religion so it is unlikely to be seen as discrimination.  Be supportive however of other religious festivals as they arise throughout the year and put a policy in place on religious observance during working hours.