contract termscontracts of employmentdisciplinary hearingsholidayssickness absence

Hello and welcome to our eighth Employment Law Snippet article. As usual, this article aims to explore and discuss how a quirky topic might affect employees and employers alike.

This week we will be looking at Christmas!! Now, let’s get some brief, festive-related confessions out of the way. Amongst other things, I’m guilty of the following in the workplace when the calendar hits 1st December:

  • Arriving in the office humming Christmas carols;
  • Putting a Christmas jumper on my office chair;
  • Hanging a penguin made entirely from tinsel on the wall; and
  • Putting various battery-powered Christmas figures on the windowsill!

In fact, I’m so pro-Christmas that one of my initial blogs for Canter Levin & Berg was entitled “123 days to go: Is it time to start thinking about Christmas”, which can be found here.

I’m also guilty of my employment law blogging habit having resulted in previous wacky and wonderful Christmas blogs being posted in December, including unions claiming that Christmas carols harm the health of shop staff (found here), my returning Santa Claus’ employment law woes series (found here and here) and, my personal favourite, a blog exploring whether Buddy the Elf is a good employee (found here). Expect good cheer and Christmas puns before clicking the links…

However, within employment law blogging, there is one main black mark nowadays. Yes, you’ve guessed it, writing a Christmas party-related blog! These used to be fresh, new and amusing but, given the number of year-on-year emails to employers from HR companies about the ‘risks of the Christmas party’, they have become old-fashioned and increasingly risk adverse. In fact, given the wider reporting of violent incidents at work Christmas parties, as commented on by Martin Malone in his 2016 blog about violent assault at a Christmas party here, there has been a sizable reduction in the number of external Christmas events held by companies.

My last Christmas party blog was published in 2017 and, hopefully in a refreshing way, I advocated for Christmas parties being held, rather than avoiding them, mainly due to the fact that unless things go way south pole (sorry!), it isn’t usually as risky as various articles and chain emails make out and, rather, is a good opportunity for staff to extend their social circle within the workplace. The blog reported upon entertaining scenarios which were mostly rather minor in nature and didn’t lead to serious action and, if you fancy a chuckle and some early Christmas good cheer, it can be found here.

In all honesty, one of the lesser commented issues during the Christmas period, at least within employment law blogs, is the issue of annual leave! Most employers will experience staff wanting more annual leave than is normal in the run-up to Christmas and face a situation in which, if all annual leave requests were granted, they would be short-staffed during a time when there is usually excess demand. It is advisable for employers to consider restrictions on annual leave during December, usually within a Contract of Employment or Staff Handbook but, even with suitable rules in place, there is a balance to be struck in managing staff morale and expectations when not all leave can be granted.

As much as a dislike the often-used phrase ‘absenteeism’, staff absences tend to rise during December as well. This can be for multiple reasons and it can be difficult to ascertain whether staff will be placed on Santa’s Good List or Naughty List. Whilst some ‘sickness absence’ days off may be in the Christmas shopping/duvet day category, others can be due to staff (particularly parents) feeling overrun with Christmas preparations and/or being more likely to pick up seasonal bugs in the cold weather.

The real mischief maker, which is likely to ensure a lump of coal in the stocking from an employer, is taking sickness absence on a date on which annual leave has previously been denied. With most employers, this is a sure-fire way to ensure that the annual Christmas card is accompanied by a Disciplinary Meeting invitation.

Overall, despite the number of ‘risk’-centred blogs at this time of year, unless events dictate otherwise, the Christmas period can be one of high morale and team spirit in most workplaces! Now, if you don’t mind, it’s time for me to relearn the words to ‘Rockin’ around the Christmas tree‘ and put fresh batteries in my Christmas lights…