The Christmas period can pose a number of HR challenges for business owners. Are you prepared for the typical situations the festive season brings? Croner, our HR partner, reveal the most common employer queries and what to do about them.

What’s the Fairest Way to Manage Holiday Requests?

With annual leave requests likely to be concentrated around the same days, many employers struggle to adopt the best approach for their employees and business simultaneously.

The best source you can rely on during this time is your written policy. This should detail your right to refuse requests if they do not suit the needs of your business, and set a precedent for clashing employee requests – the most common approach being a first come first served basis.

If you intend to close your business over Christmas, you need to put in place arrangements for workers to take leave at this specific time. Sufficient notice must be given – at least double the period of leave that the employee is required to take – but the easiest way of communicating this is to build your terms into your written holiday policy.


What Happens if an Employee Insists on Taking Holiday?

Workers must give notice equal to or more than twice the length of the holiday they intend to take. Following this, you can then give counter notice stating that the leave is not to be taken, so long as this does not prevent your employee taking holiday they are entitled to use.

Where this is the case, you must ensure that a valid business reason exists to refuse your employee’s request.

Should your employee disregard this and takes leave without approval, you must follow the proper steps including investigations and interviews, taking the view that this could be an unauthorised absence.


Should I have a Policy on Christmas Workplace Social Events?

In short, yes.

Regardless of size or service, every business should really have a policy of this nature to draw up expectations and set boundaries where behaviour is concerned.

Employers should maintain a policy because they have a duty of care towards staff, and as a matter of good practice.


Do I have to Host a Christmas Party?

Christmas parties are not an obligation. Having said this, a majority of employers consider it best practice to host some form of Christmas celebration. Whether you organise a casual drink with your employees, or host a larger-scale party, the event will lend itself to team building opportunities, and celebrating the collective success of the year.

You must, however, exercise caution as horror stories are not in short supply where workplace Christmas parties are concerned, so certain protocols and procedures should be considered well beforehand.


Am I responsible for what happens during our Christmas party?

There is, unfortunately, no black and white ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Should an incident escalate to a tribunal, all circumstances and factors of a situation will be considered to determine the answer.

If we consider case law, in Chief Constable of the Lincolnshire Police v Stubbs and other, a police officer complained of sexual harassment by work colleagues in a pub outside working hours.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that social events away from the police station involving officers from work either immediately after work, or for an organised leaving party fell within the remit of “course of employment”.

In another legal case, employees got drunk at a party and were involved in a brawl. They successfully argued that the subsequent dismissals were unfair: the employer had provided a free bar and therefore condoned their behaviour.

If alcohol is on tap ensure that soft drinks (including plenty of water) are also provided.

Offer a variety of food that all guests can enjoy. It would be wise to ask the staff before the party if they have any special dietary requirements.


Do Christmas Decorations in the Workplace Really Pose any Risk?

For those erring on the side of caution, decorations with no religious connotations, e.g. candy canes and holly, are the safest option if you are concerned about causing offence among your staff.

For the most part, there will be more health and safety concerns relating to decorations than there will be HR.

It’s important to exercise care and due diligence when hanging decorations, and equally important to conduct the relevant health and safety checks where electrical decorations, e.g. lights, are concerned.

It is not necessary to waste money on annual PATs for your Christmas lights. Simply follow sensible precautions – buy lights with safety marks on the packaging; check for obvious signs of damage; follow the manufacturer’s instructions; keep them clear of flammable materials and remember to turn them off at the end of each day.


Minimum Workplace Temperature: Is it a Myth?

There is no specific temperature stated in legislation regarding a minimum temperature in the workplace. However, it is stated that temperature should be ‘reasonable’ during working hours. For sedentary workers, guidance by HSE suggests a minimum temperature of 16 degrees.


Am I Legally Required to Clear Snow from the Premises?

As an employer, it is your duty to ensure that your workplace is as safe as is ‘reasonably practicable’. To adhere to this, you must take steps to at least reduce any risk, such as sectioning off any unsafe areas or clearing snow.

If an incident was to occur and an employee brought an injury claim against you, a court would look to identify any actions you took to prevent an incident occurring.


For any advice surrounding HR or health and safety, not just during the festive period but all year round, call a Croner advisor for free on 0844 561 8133.