It’s fast approaching that time of the year where I receive questions from my employer clients regarding the Christmas period, a time of year that can often present employers with unique challenges. In this first of my series of Christmas Employment Issues, I list three of my most frequently asked questions and my responses in order to ensure employers do not come unstuck at this most merry time of year.

Can my employee’s refuse to work on bank holidays? What are their rights?

No. Almost all workers are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year (statutory minimum). This amounts to 28 days’ paid annual leave per year for workers who work a 5-day week. This figure should be pro-rated for those working part-time.

There is no legal right for an employee to take bank holidays as annual leave. Furthermore, an employer is able to dictate when employees’ have to use their annual leave. For example, organisations which close over the Christmas period may legitimately require employees to use some of their annual leave to cover this closure.

However, all employers must give employees two days’ notice for every day they want an employee to take as annual leave. So, if an employer wants to make an employee take four days’ holiday, they are required to give no less than eight days’ notice.

“Our Christmas party is approaching. What can we do to ensure everything runs smoothly? In particular, our worries are excessive alcohol consumption and inappropriate behaviour”

Employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees at work-related social events such as Christmas parties. One way in preparing for any office event is by implementing a clear work-related social events policy. Within this policy, an employer will set out the standards of behaviour expected and include a non-exhaustive list of behaviours which are unacceptable, in particular, inappropriate behaviour.

Unfortunately, even with such a policy in place, an employer might find themselves having to deal with altercations or other unsavoury incidents. It is important that if the incident occurred at a work-related social event then it is to be treated as a disciplinary offence. An employer should follow their disciplinary and grievance policy, including undertaking a full investigation.

“Our employees are already starting to receive Christmas gifts from clients, where do we stand on accepting these?”

It is common for employees to build up strong working relationships with their clients and this can result in clients wanting to send gifts to show their appreciation. It is important that employer’s make their attitude towards accepting gifts transparent to their employees. This can be achieved by implementing a policy that covers the acceptance of gifts, benefits and hospitality.

The receiving of gifts or hospitality should not be entirely prohibited, subject to the gift or hospitality not being accepted where you know or suspect it is offered with the intention or expectation that it will obtain or retain a business advantage for the sender. If the gift is appropriate in the circumstances, for example, it is customary for small gifts to be given at Christmas, then it can be accepted. Gifts should not be made secretly and should not be cash or cash equivalent (gift cards).

The simple test which can be applied when considering the question of legitimacy is whether in all the circumstances, the gift or hospitality is reasonable and justifiable. The intention behind the gift must always be considered.

Lloyd Clarke is a Senior Associate at Attwells Solicitors LLP and heads up the firms Employment Law Department. Lloyd has acted for many employers nationwide and his clients value his tenacity, understanding and attention to detail.

If you want to know more about the above-mentioned policies or are looking for legal advice or support on any area affecting your business, please do not hesitate to contact Lloyd Clarke on 01206 239761 for a no-obligation consultation.