Legal News

Employment myths of Christmas

Date: December 18, 2019 by idu-net

It’s the time of year for festive cheer, but there are several HR and employment myths that circulate at this time of year. Here’s just a few debunked:

 

  1. Christmas decorations should not be permitted

Christmas decorations are a fun part of Christmas festivities, and it is unsurprising that many employees choose to decorate their working areas.  It is a common misconception that Christmas decorations breach health and safety rules. As long as a proper risk assessment is carried out, employers will not normally fall foul of health and safety rules. However, employers should be aware that improper use of decorations or failure to properly test electrical equipment may negate insurance cover in the event of accidents. To avoid problems, it is sensible to communicate what decorations are permitted and any conditions for displaying them i.e. using battery operated devices only.

 

  1. Competing holiday requests at Christmas all have to be approved

During the festive period, it is usual for employees to request the same days as annual leave. Unless the business operates a Christmas shutdown, it will usually be operationally impossible to accommodate all requests, which may necessitate the business choosing which requests to approve and which to decline. Christian employees may request annual leave to observe religious festivities.

First come first served can be an objective basis for deciding how holiday should be allocated, although this too is not without difficulty.  However, it can be a good starting point before other factors are taken into consideration and a final decision is made.

 

  1. Seasonal staff are not entitled get annual leave

Many people think that temporary Christmas workers are not entitled to any annual leave, but this is incorrect. Under the working time legislation, all workers are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year, pro rata if they do not work a full year. Temporary or seasonal staff should therefore be allowed to take holiday and should be paid in respect of any unused holiday on termination.

 

  1. There’s a legal right to have Christmas Day off

Many assume that bank holidays are an automatic leave day for all employees, but there is no legal entitlement for employees to take annual leave on bank holidays – including Christmas day – unless their contract of employment expressly says so.

 

  1. You’ve got to be paid double time for working on Christmas Day

Subject to any contractual entitlement, there is no legal requirement to provide enhanced pay to employees who work on Christmas day or any other bank holiday.

 

  1. What happens at the Christmas party, stays at the Christmas party

Not necessarily.  Employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees at Christmas parties. Whether the employer is liable depends on whether there is sufficient connection between what happened and the employer, such that the actions can be said to have been done ‘in the course of employment’.

It is safest for employers to assume that they will be held liable for the actions of their employees during Christmas parties and plan accordingly. Actions to minimise misbehavior could include carrying out a risk assessment, setting limits to the amount of alcohol that will be provided and communicating with employees in advance to confirm the standards of behavior expected and the fact that the disciplinary process will be followed if necessary.

 

  1. An employee’s pay can be docked if they arrive to work late after the Christmas party

It is unlawful for an employer to make a deduction from a worker’s wages unless the deduction is authorised by law or their contract, or the worker has given their prior written consent. The employer should be clear about their expectations regarding absence the day after the Christmas party, ensuring all staff know what the consequences will be for latecomers. It is also sensible to check there is a right to make deductions in such circumstances within the employment contracts and/or obtain written consent before making any deductions.

 

  1. There’s no requirement to pay employees a Christmas bonus

Where an employee’s contract sets out an entitlement to a Christmas bonus, and any criteria for payment of that bonus has been met, employees will have a potential claim for unlawful deductions from wages if their bonus isn’t paid. Additionally, employers should be aware that if employees have regularly received a Christmas bonus in previous years, they might argue that the bonus has become a contractual right as a result of custom and practice.

By contrast, provided that the terms of the scheme are clearly discretionary, an employer will be entitled to exercise its discretion not to pay a Christmas bonus so long as it is not acting irrationally or perversely. In withholding the bonus, the employer should also take care that the decision is not potentially discriminatory – for example, if some employees receive a bonus while others do not.