Don't ignore your legal and staff responsibilities this Christmas

Don't ignore your legal and staff responsibilities this Christmas

Now December is finally here, many of us will begin to think about celebrating the festive season with our family and friends and enjoying a break from work. But it can be a tricky time for employers trying to balance the joviality of Christmas with running a business seamlessly.

To help you keep your business running smoothly throughout December and the New Year, we’ve identified some of the issues which may arise and how to tackle them.

Preparation and communication is key 

Your office Christmas party will no doubt be a hot topic of conversation and source of excitement. Although it can be a great way of celebrating what you and your team have achieved throughout the year, there are also some serious things to think about. 

Consider communicating 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 drinking excess alcohol.

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.

Remember your responsibilities 

As an employer, you should assume that you are liable for anything that happens at the Christmas party. The term ‘in the course of employment’ is referred to in law and in the case of Chief Constable of the Lincolnshire Police v Stubbs and others (1999), a male officer had subjected a female colleague to sexual harassment on a number of occasions at social gatherings that took place immediately after work. 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’.

Follow your normal procedures

If a member of staff is off sick or is absent after the Christmas party then you need to consistently follow your normal sickness policy and procedures. Even if you suspect that ‘stomach bug or seasonal flu’ is really a self-induced hangover!

Plan annual leave in advance

How you deal with annual leave over Christmas and New Year depends on the type of business you run and how busy or quiet you tend to be. For some industries, such as retail, the festive season is the busiest time of year, while others completely shut down. You should follow your organisation’s normal policy for booking time off on annual leave, although you may want to be more flexible about how many people you allow off at the same time. 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:

• Requiring workers to use their annual leave entitlement to cover a period of time when the organisation will shut down.
• Expecting employees to take annual leave on particular dates when the business is closed.
• Specifying the maximum amount of leave employees can take on any one occasion and the periods of time when leave may be taken;
• Restricting the number of workers who can be off at any one time.

Support colleagues’ religious beliefs

Under the Equality Act 2010 your employees are protected from direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of their religion. 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.

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.

Julie Gordon is Managing Director of cHRysos HR Solutions, a Doncaster based HR training and consultancy company providing CIPD and CMI accredited qualifications, apprenticeships and HR Consultancy Services, nationwide and overseas. Contact Julie on or call +44 (0)1302 802128.

Recent Articles

Why having good ethics makes good business sense
How to find the right career coach
How to avoid stress when running a small business

Share This Post

Posted In

cHRysos HR Solutions are a UK wide HR training and consultancy company offering CIPD accredited qualifications, Apprenticeships, Training and HR Services to SMEs. For more information about how cHRysos HR can help you or your teams successfully achieve further qualifications, contact us on or call 03300 562443.