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Christmas parties ….. an employment law guide to the festive season!

The festive season carries its own challenges for employers, and while in most cases, we can relax and enjoy ourselves, there are some common problems and not all the potential issues are as obvious as the ‘inappropriate’ use of the office photocopier! So what can you do if staff misbehave at staff parties?

The festive season carries its own challenges for employers, and while in most cases, we can relax and enjoy ourselves, there are some common problems and not all the potential issues are as obvious as the ‘inappropriate’ use of the office photocopier!

Employee drunkenness aside, it is often best to restrict office parties to licensed premises, avoiding licensing or insurance issues. Remember to provide soft drinks for non-drinkers and if laying on food, take account of the requirements of staff, some of whom may not be able to eat some foods for religious or other reasons. Think also about how easy it is for people to get home by public transport – if not that easy consider laying on transport to get staff home and to avoid the possibility of drink driving.

What if staff misbehave at staff parties?

Bad behaviour at the office party should normally be dealt with as any other misconduct, whether or not the party is in work time or in work premises. Employees who commit misconduct at parties held off the premises and outside of normal working hours are not immune from disciplinary action – they are after all associated with their employer and their actions could cause reputational damage. Best to ensure at least one senior person remains ‘in control’ to deal informally and gently with any potential issues before they arise.

Bullying/harassment claims are more common when the alcohol flows and employers can be liable - even if they didn’t know about the incident. Without being a party pooper, if you think this is a risk in your business, it’s worth gently reminding employees that proper standards of behaviour continue to apply. A suitable policy should be in place to ensure staff understand the standards expected.

Social media issues are more prevalent at this time of year too, and if you’ve social media clauses in your employment contracts now is a good time to remind people, if not, make sure you diarise an employment contract update with myHRdept in the new year!

Can I insist staff take holidays/do not take holidays at this time of year?

Employers have wide ranging rights when it comes to holidays, including (within reason) when staff can and can’t take them and when they can be required to take leave. These should be summarised in employment contracts. The minimum legal position (in the absence of a well drafted employment contract) is to provide at least twice the amount notice for a holiday the employer requires staff to take (i.e. for a week’s holiday, 2 weeks’ notice) and at least the equivalent amount of notice when refusing a holiday (i.e. if the employee asks for 2 days holiday, at least 2 days notice of refusal must be given. It’s perfectly valid for an employer to refuse a holiday request, but this right should be used reasonably – to behave unreasonably could give rise to a breach of trust claim.

I need extra hours over this period. What are my rights as an employer?

Extra hours by agreement is fine, employment contracts should specify the employer’s ability to require additional hours – if they don’t then insisting employees work additional hours is not an option. Clauses which require additional hours (compulsory overtime hours) will require those additional hours to accrue for the purposes of holiday pay. This differs from genuinely voluntary additional hours which still need not be regarded as 'normal pay' (and hence don't need to be factored into holiday pay calculations.) As ever, do check the wording in employee's contracts and seek advice if you are at all unsure.

How much am I allowed to spend on festive meals for my employees?

Under current rules HMRC allow employers a tax free £150 per head per annum to spent on employee hospitality. That amount hasn’t changed for years, but you can still get a decent dinner for £150 a head!

If you're thinking of outsourcing your HR why not contact myhrdept.co.uk. With start-up packages from £65 per month, full service Premium Plus packages from only £110 per month and fixed price HR support options available for one-off issues, we believe we offer the best combination of quality and price available in the UK. Call us on 01628 820515 to discuss your requirements email us here and we’ll call you back.

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