Potential Problems at Christmas Time

The Labour Relations Agency Workplace Information Service receives enquiries every Christmas from businesses with questions and problems.

To help you prepare and avoid potential issues we have compiled some frequently asked questions which we receive each Christmas season.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. I have booked a holiday abroad over the Christmas period. My employer has refused me time off. Can they do this?

A. 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.

Q. Our Christmas party has always been a rather quiet event. However, we took over another company this year and now have a majority of younger employees. They are used to more boisterous celebrations and I'm worried that age discrimination claims will be lodged – how can I make everyone happy?

A. The success of any party lies in thoughtful planning that takes into consideration the diverse preferences of your team. Given the recent merger and the varied age groups among your employees, it's essential to create an inclusive atmosphere to avoid any concerns about age discrimination. To address this, aim for a balanced mix of music that appeals to different tastes, and when organising entertainment, ensure it caters to a diverse audience. Recognise that the preferences for celebration can vary widely among employees, and by incorporating a variety of elements, you can create an environment that accommodates everyone.

Moreover, it's crucial to highlight that the festive party is a time for collective joy and celebration, irrespective of age or any other factor. Emphasising the principles of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) in the event planning process will not only make everyone feel valued but also mitigate the risk of any claims related to discrimination. Encourage open communication to gather input and ensure that the party reflects the diverse spirit of your combined workforce.

Q. Are there any problems I should consider about the choice of venue and entertainment?

A. When choosing a venue for your Christmas party, it's essential to consider various factors to ensure an inclusive and safe environment for all employees. Make sure the venue is accessible to disabled individuals, allowing everyone who wishes to attend to do so without any hindrance. Additionally, designate a clear emergency fire evacuation meeting point and communicate this information to all attendees to prioritise their safety.

Carefully vet the chosen entertainment and speakers. Ensure that their performances and remarks align with a commitment to a respectful and inclusive atmosphere, avoiding any content that could constitute any form of harassment or discrimination.

Furthermore, prioritise health and safety by confirming that the venue adheres to necessary regulations and standards. This includes checking for proper emergency exits, fire safety measures, and accessible facilities. By proactively addressing these considerations, you create an environment that celebrates the festive season but also upholds the well-being of all.

Q. We usually allow our staff to sell raffle tickets for prizes which are given out at the Christmas party - is there any problem with this?

A. Generally, no, it's acceptable to allow staff to participate in selling raffle tickets for prizes distributed at the Christmas party. However, it's crucial to create an inclusive environment by respecting individual choices. No undue pressure should be exerted on staff members who choose not to take part.

Additionally, when selecting prizes, it's important to ensure that the prizes offered cater to a variety of diverse preferences considering dietary restrictions and individuals who do not consume alcohol.  This approach fosters a more inclusive and considerate atmosphere during the festive celebrations.

Q. Last year people failed to turn up for work the day after the party. What can we do to prevent this?

A. To prevent absenteeism on the day after the party, it's crucial to take proactive measures. Start by providing an ample supply of non-alcoholic drinks and food at the party, ensuring that there are appealing options for everyone. This helps create an environment where employees can enjoy themselves responsibly.

Prior to the event, communicate clearly with all staff about the expectations regarding alcohol consumption. Emphasise that the provision of alcoholic drinks does not grant permission to take the next day off without a valid reason.

In addition, establish a clear protocol for reporting absences following the standard procedures in place. Encourage employees to communicate any absence promptly and in accordance with company guidelines. Absences not following the standard reporting procedures may be considered a form of misconduct and could be subject to disciplinary action.

By setting expectations early, providing alternatives to excessive alcohol consumption, and outlining the consequences for non-compliance with attendance policies, you create a balanced and responsible atmosphere for celebrating while maintaining professionalism in the workplace.

Q. What if an employee who has clearly drunk too much at the office Christmas party is planning to drive home. It's not my responsibility, is it?

A. In fact, it is your responsibility as an employer to ensure the well-being of your employees, especially at company events such as the Christmas party. You have a 'duty of care' towards your staff, and this extends to their safety.

If an employee who has clearly consumed too much alcohol is planning to drive home, it's crucial to intervene. Consider various options for safe travel arrangements. Ending the party before public transport stops running is a thoughtful approach. Additionally, hiring minibuses to take staff home can be a practical and appreciated solution.

If you choose to use a transport company for this purpose, conduct due diligence checks to ensure the company meets safety standards and is reputable. This step adds an extra layer of assurance that the transportation provided is reliable and secure.

Q. If an employee suffers verbal abuse at the party, which is not on company premises; it's a matter for them, isn't it?

A. Wrong – going to the office party, even when it is off company premises, counts as an extension of work and so all the laws covering discrimination still apply.  Make sure the company has policies in place on bullying and harassment and discrimination and that everyone knows what they are and what the penalties are for ignoring them.

Q. My recently recruited manager has issued an email to staff telling them that Christmas decorations breach health and safety rules. Is this right?

A. As long as a proper risk assessment is carried out looking at where and how decorations are sited, particularly if they could pose potential fire hazards, health and safety rules will not normally be breached. 

Q. One of my managers has complained that one of her staff cornered her at the office party and insisted on telling her jokes of a sexually explicit nature. How could I have avoided this?

A. Clear instructions on standards of behaviour at such parties are your best defence, particularly if communicated well in advance.  A statement should be issued highlighting that employees are there under the umbrella of the company and that as such, normal rules, policies and procedures, including disciplinary and grievance apply.  You should outline the conduct expected, provide examples of what breaches might look like and remind people that these will be treated as misconduct in the normal way.

Q. One of my employees took photographs of me when I have had a few drinks. She said she was going to post them on Facebook. Can I stop her?

A. It is very tempting for users of Facebook to upload photos of their colleagues often looking a bit worse for wear. This could raise data protection issues if those appearing in photos have not consented to their images being uploaded on to social media sites. There is also a risk of employees posting inappropriate messages on social media sites which could cause offence or embarrassment to anyone referred to in the post or to the employer.

Such activities could damage the reputation of employees and the trust between colleagues and in serious cases could bring the employer’s name into disrepute. Employers are advised to have social media policies in place and ensure employees are informed of the likely consequences or disciplinary action which could result from inappropriate use of social media.

Last updated: 13 December 2023