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Top 10 Employment Tips for Businesses During Christmas

Tis the season to be merry and let your hair down, however to ensure that you do so without exposing your business to tribunal proceedings, follow our top ten tips: 

1. Policy on workplace social events

As a matter of good practice, you should ensure you have a policy relating to conduct on work related social events. This would assist in the event that you (a) need to take any disciplinary action and/or (b) need to investigate any discrimination allegations.  

2. Communicate policies relating to conduct 

• Ensure managers review and understand any policies relating to Christmas parties or work related social events.

• You should also consider issuing a statement to employees reminding them of conduct expected during any work related parties.

3. Take any complaints seriously 

Employers are responsible for what happens at a work related Christmas party because any off-duty conduct may be regarded as sufficiently connected to work where work-related social occasions are involved. 

In Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police v Stubbs alleged sexual harassment by a fellow police officer occurred when attending a pub immediately after work and at a leaving party for a colleague. The EAT concluded that the tribunal was entitled to find that this was within the course of employment due to the fact it was a works social gathering. 

4. Discipline employees for misconduct post the Christmas party

The case of Gimson v Display By Design Ltd is precedent for the principle that employers can take disciplinary action for misconduct post a Christmas party. 

In Gimson, Mr Gimson got in to a brawl after the end of a Christmas party, his employer subsequently instigated disciplinary proceedings for gross misconduct and he was dismissed on the basis that, his conduct was not provoked. The tribunal found he was fairly dismissed. 

5. Free bar at a Christmas party

• Although providing a fee bar will boost your employees’ morale, you need to be cautious when doing so. 

• In Williams and others v Whitbread Beer Co, three long-serving employees were dismissed after attending a seminar on “behavioural skills” organised by the company. They drank at the free bar provided by the company and ended up in a drunken, abusive and violent state. The unlimited free bar provided by the employer was an important factor in determining whether or not the dismissal was fair. Surprisingly in the first instance the tribunal held in the employees favour, however this victory was short lived as the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) reversed this decision. 

6. Absence and lateness post the Christmas party

You should make it clear to staff in advance of the Christmas party that disciplinary action will be taken against any employee who fails to turn up, or turns up late, the day after the Christmas party and there is reason to believe that the non-attendance/lateness is due to over-consumption of alcohol. 

7. Other religions 

Usually Christmas parties are about bringing staff together and booting staff morale rather than celebrating religion, therefore the act of holding a Christmas party itself is unlikely to be seen as religious discrimination.

8. Be sympathetic to requests for holidays during the Christmas period

• Where an employee has accrued untaken leave and gives reasonable notice to the employer to take the leave, you must have a valid business reasons for refusing the employee’s request to take leave.

• If an employee takes leave without approval, you should approach the issue sensibly and be careful not to impose a disproportionate penalty on the employee because in Stott v Next Retail Ltd an employee who was dismissed for failing to attend work without permission on Christmas Eve was found to have been unfairly dismissed by an employment tribunal.

9. Working bank holidays

• Whether employees are entitled to time off during bank holidays is dependent of the terms of their contract because they do not have a statutory right to time off during bank holidays. 

• Further, there is no statutory requirement to pay employees extra for bank holiday working, but you should observe contractual terms or custom and practice regarding pay rates.

10. Be sympathetic to refusals from Christian employees to work on Christmas bank holidays

While employees do not have the explicit right to time off for religious observance, a refusal to grant Christian employees time off for any of the bank holidays with religious significance could amount to indirect religious discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. 

I hope the above tips prove useful to you, whatever the nature of your business, and should you require policies on work related social events or on religious holidays please do not hesitate to contact me on 0113 350 4030 or samira.cakali@scesolicitors.co.uk.

Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here. 

Samira Cakali

Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.

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