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'Twas the Month Before Christmas - Planning for common workplace issues

As the festive season draws near, most of us are focusing on the all-important matters such as when to start decorating the Christmas tree, who to invite over on Christmas Day and hitting the high street to buy Christmas gifts for the never- ending list of family members which seems to grow each year. However, for employers, this is a time of year to be extra vigilant.

Here are a few words of advice to help make the festive season seem that little less daunting.

Communicate with all staff

Now is a good time to remind all staff of the relevant internal polices you have in place and to restate your expectations whether that relates to time management, attendance or conduct.
Make sure that you have robust Equal Opportunities, Sickness and Anti-Harassment Policies in place and that they are implemented and applied consistently across the workforce with appropriate training.  Consider sending a well drafted e-mail some weeks in advance to clarify for staff what is acceptable and what is not and confirming where your policies are kept.


Some employers may decide to create a bit of light-hearted fun in the office by having a competition of which team can come up with the best office decorations. Think about employees of other faiths whose festival may not be celebrated in the same way. Although it can be argued that Christmas decorations such as tinsel and baubles are not religious in themselves, it is best to ensure that overtly religious symbols are not encouraged and to appreciate the possible risk.

Employers will also need to consider health and safely issues such as injuries when putting up decorations. Ensure a proper risk assessment is carried out and staff are using the correct equipment to hang decorations i.e. a staff ladder and not a swivel chair.

Lastly, remember you still have a business to run so ensure employees are productive in their work and not spending the whole day decorating their desk.

Secret Santa

Just a bit of harmless fun? Not for all. The protection of being the unknown purchaser can be appealing for some, inspiring them to gift something completely inappropriate. This can be a perfect opportunity to deliberately harass or humiliate a fellow colleague – especially where bullying already exists. Issue a reminder to all staff about the Secret Santa guidelines. Remember, just because one person finds it funny doesn’t mean another will.

The Christmas Party

“You will never guess what happened last night…”

Whilst Christmas parties can be a great way of thanking employees for a good year at work, it is also an event that can hold the greatest risk from a liability perspective-especially when alcohol is present.

Remember that employers can be held vicariously liable for the conduct of their employees - not only whilst at the party but also on their way to and from the party. It is therefore important to remind staff that the normal standards of behaviour are expected throughout.

On occasions, disagreements or even violence can occur which can lead to disciplinary matters. Ensure you take appropriate action and ensure your disciplinary policy is up to date.

Also, consider the food and drink on offer. If you have a diverse workforce, there may be religions which prohibit the consumption of alcohol or certain foods. Ensure that alternatives are offered to all staff and cater accordingly.

The Day After

It is the morning after the Christmas party and you suddenly have a rise in the number of phone calls from staff who are feeling unwell. Unfortunately this happens all too often when staff miraculously fall ill overnight or during the Christmas period. Remind staff that your sickness policy will be rigorously applied during this period, that staff will be required to self-certify the reason for any absence and that any inaccurate or misleading statements will be treated as a disciplinary offence.

If you find yourself having to deal with complaints or grievances after the Christmas party, ensure they are considered fairly and in accordance with the ACAS Code of Practice along with your own internal policies.

The Langleys Employment Team wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  

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