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Controlling festive spirit at work

30 Nov 2012

Christmas doesn’t come gift-wrapped for employers who need to keep on top of everything from health and safety to the Bribery Act in the festive season. Neil Dwyer, head of the employment team at Hay & Kilner, provides a timely warning on the pitfalls for unwary employers at Christmas time.

Bribery, health and safety, sexual harassment, discrimination and disciplinary action may not be top of any business check list in the final run-up to Christmas, but the impact of office parties and generous clients could leave employers feeling distinctly un-festive.

Whether it’s the official Christmas party or an informal get together in the office, employers need to set out guidelines and take appropriate precautions. If the party is in the office, then limiting the amount of alcohol can be a good idea. It’s not just about locking up the stationery cupboard and disconnecting the photocopiers, employee’s health and safety must also be considered.

All employers have an overriding duty to safeguard the welfare of all their staff, whether it’s at their desk or during the Christmas festivities. Setting out what is acceptable behaviour before the event is the safest route to take. Employers should also make it clear that any rule-breaking will be viewed as misconduct, to be dealt with through the companies’ disciplinary procedures.

Another risk is sexual harassment. Unwanted advances by one colleague to another could lead to an employment tribunal claim, with the employer liable for not providing adequate protection for the relevant employee.

Managing diversity in the workplace is another important area.  Dealing with a Christian festival within a workforce that may have different cultural or religious beliefs requires the careful and astute management of staff. No employees should be pressurised to attend Christmas-related events if they don’t want to on religious grounds.

Christmas Present Wrapped in Gold and Silver

There are then the generous bottles of wine or bubbly changing hands between customers and suppliers. With the Bribery Act lying in wait to trap the unwary, it is worth checking your internal policies and if necessary reminding all staff to record any gifts, (whatever the value) that they receive.

Finally, there has been a huge surge in workers throwing a ‘sickie’ that conveniently ties in with Christmas shopping, putting up the tree, or simply recovering from the office party the day before. Employees should be made aware of a clear policy, and reminded that abuse of the system will result in disciplinary action. Every employer has to assume absence is genuine, but employees who know that return to work interviews will be held and that absence management procedures will be pursued, are less likely to phone in sick after that late night.

It all adds up to a safer way to enjoy Christmas at work.

For more information on any aspect of the above, of if you have any questions, please contact employment partner Neil Dwyer on 0191 2328345 or email: neil.dwyer@hay-kilner.co.uk