We’ve all heard the one about dubious images being found on the photocopier tray the morning after the Christmas office party.
And equally dubious glances between workmates who got a little, shall we say, friendlier than they intended after a few too many eggnogs.
But, when it comes to the festive season, there’s more to consider in the workplace than photocopied body parts and inter-collegial relations.
There is a raft of things employers need to take stock of to meet legal obligations, keep their employees happy and ensure their business ticks over during the Christmas break. Here are our Top Five:
1. Managing staff levels and expectations
The race is on for people to put in their leave requests for Christmas. Some will have planned a year in advance, while others are still hoping to wing it.
Managing everyone’s expectations, while maintaining adequate staff levels, can be a challenge. But if you have a plan in place, it will help compensate for those who don’t.
Make it clear which days you are open for business, and how many staff will be needed
Remind people to put their leave requests in early
Make the most of technology to record and manage leave requests
Be respectful and explain the ‘why’ when you have to turn someone down
2. Shutting up shop
If you are planning an annual closedown period at Christmas, you must legally give your employees at least 14 days’ notice. Employees must take leave over this time, even if they don’t have any annual leave owing.
Those in their first year of employment with you, who don’t yet have any leave, must be paid eight percent of the gross pay they’ve earned since they started working for you.
Or, if you agree, employees can take annual leave in advance. Alternatively, you can change the date they receive their annual leave allowance so they have some paid leave to tide them over the closedown. In which case the new date becomes their leave anniversary from then on.
Any public holidays during the closedown period, are paid.
3. Holiday pay
Holiday pay continues to make the headlines, due to ongoing confusion over how the Holidays Act is interpreted.
Under the Act, you should pay employees leave at either their ordinary rate, or their average weekly earnings over the previous 12 months – whichever is the highest of the two.
But if you have employees who don’t have an ordinary rate, such as shift workers, you should use the average of the past four weeks, or the average of the past 12 months – again, whichever is the highest of the two.
Sounds simple enough right? Not exactly. The intricacies of the law can, and do catch people out. If you’re not sure if you’re doing things correctly, seek advice – to avoid hefty fines and costly backdated holiday payments.
Gone are the days when triple pay on Christmas Day was a given. Employers are only obliged to pay penal rates as set out in their employment contracts.
These are agreed between both parties, with the hourly ‘overtime’ rate usually being higher than that paid during a “normal” 40-hour week.
While time-and-a-half and double time are often agreed, there’s no legal obligation for employers to pay extra per hour. However, a prudent employee will recognise that employees who feel valued are more loyal and likely to put in the hard yards when you need them most. Like, over Christmas.
5. And last, but not least, the proverbial Christmas office party
Electrocution by fairy lights, getting sexually harassed by a reindeer (well, Neville from accounts wearing reindeer antlers), anaphylaxis from the seafood pate… the office Christmas party is a potential health and safety minefield, according to office rumour. But is it really?
By law, an employer can be prosecuted if they fail to protect their staff.
However, there is also an element of employee responsibility – and liability lies somewhere in the middle.
Before any workplace social event, employees should be made aware of any relevant policies, such as drinking alcohol and code of conduct.
As a responsible employer, you should also consider things like providing food and non-alcoholic drink options, not serving people who are drunk and transport options.
If you’ve done what is reasonably practicable to keep your employees safe, and made it clear what your expectations are, you’re much less likely to have a lawsuit on your hands.
And once you have your house (well, workplace) in order, you can put your feet up and have a well-earned break.