Christmas and the workplace
The Christmas season has a big impact on most businesses and employees. It will be a time when there is likely to be extra demand for products, services and sales in some businesses whilst others may experience a quiet period or may shut for the Christmas holidays. Many employees will request time off to spend time with their family, go on holiday or attend religious services. Employees working over the Christmas period may experience different working patterns, a change in the nature of their workload or face difficulties getting to and from work. It's also a period when some industries might need extra support and will take on seasonal workers.
Christmas is a time of celebration for many and employers can help the festivities by planning ahead for holiday requests, managing absences and Christmas events.
Holiday entitlement and the law
The Working Time Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1998 (as amended) set down the minimum annual leave provisions for workers although some employers may provide more generous contractual holidays. The Regulations apply to all workers whether employed on a full-time or part-time basis, temporary or permanent contract and to agency workers and freelancers. Under the Regulations, workers have the right to 5.6 weeks’ paid leave each year, capped at 28 days (from 1 April 2009).
Arrangements for holidays and holiday pay should be agreed between employers and workers or their representatives. Disagreements over holidays and holiday pay are common if entitlements are not clearly set out in writing. Such disagreements may lead to deterioration in employment relations and possible complaints to industrial tribunals. Employers are required by law to provide all employees, within two months of commencing employment, a written statement of employment particulars. The law requires this written statement to contain details of holidays and holiday pay entitlements.
Christmas bank holidays
This year, Christmas Day (25 December 2017) falls on a Monday, Boxing day (26 December 2017) falls on a Tuesday, which means these two days will be Bank Holidays. There is no statutory right to have either day away from work or taken as paid time off unless the terms of the employment contract allow otherwise. Paid public holidays can be counted as part of statutory annual leave. There is no legal right to paid leave for public holidays. Any right to paid time off for these holidays depends on the terms of a worker's contract. Paid public holidays can be counted as part of the statutory 5.6 weeks of holiday.
Annual leave over the Christmas period
An organisation's annual leave policy should give guidance on how to book time off. However, employers may wish to look at being a little more flexible when allowing employees leave during this period. Employees should remember this may not always be possible as it could be one of the busiest times of the year for the organisation. The key is for both parties to try and come to an agreement and to plan as early as possible while being fair and consistent with all staff.
Some employers may need to restrict annual leave over the Christmas period. This must be stated in the contract of employment, implied from custom or practice, or incorporated into individual contracts from a collective agreement. This can take many forms, but some of the most common are:
• shutting down for certain periods while workers have to use their annual leave entitlement
• nominating particular dates as days of closure when workers are expected to take annual leave
• determining the maximum amounts of leave that can be taken on any one occasion and also the periods when leave may be taken
• determining the number of workers who can be off at any one time.
Sickness absence during the Christmas season
An organisation's usual sickness policy will apply during this time. This policy should be managed and operated fairly and consistently for all staff. Levels of attendance should be monitored during this period in accordance with the associated policy. Any unauthorised absence or patterns in absence (eg high levels of sickness or late attendance) could result in formal proceedings. Where an employee is sick or absent from work the day after a work Christmas party, normal sickness policies and procedures would apply.
Everyone wants to have a good time at a Christmas party, and it should be enjoyed by all who attend and be free from any potentially embarrassing incidents. Employers should have clear guidance for employees on behaviour at work-related events and set out the possible implications of their actions. Managers may want to remind staff before any Christmas party what the employer's policy states, to avoid behaviours that could be viewed as harassment or misconduct.