It’s the most wonderful time of the year – Holidays in the workplace.

For many, the most wonderful time of the year is fast approaching, but for managers and HR Departments the Christmas Period can be more like the nightmare before Christmas.  So instead of bringing you the gifts of Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh this season HPC will gift to you of our top tips to ensure that everyone within the workplace will “Be of good cheer”


This time of the year companies look to reward staff with nights out and Christmas parties. Whilst it can be a great opportunity for companies to say thank you to the employees for their hard work and help with employee engagement, there can be pitfalls that a company can fall into:

Invitations – Companies need to make sure all employees are invited, including those on maternity/paternity/adoption leave and depending on the circumstances those on sick leave.  You should not make it compulsory for people to attend and no pressure should be applied.  If you decide to invite partners of your employees, this shouldn’t be just limited to husbands and wives but civil partners.

Venue – If the companies are paying for the celebrations, then they can insist where the celebrations are being held but it is always good practice to seek the views of employees.  Any chosen venue needs to cater for all staff where possible, including facilities for disabled employees and it is easy to get to.  If the employees are taking responsibility for organising the event, managers need to support the employee as they can be bombarded with suggestions and it can take their time away from their work.

Pre-party guidelines – Outline the acceptable behaviour in advance of the celebrations ensuring that your policies and procedures are up to date and cover conduct outside of work.  It may be worth sending out a gentle reminder with the information about the event i.e. whilst we want you to have a great time and enjoy the celebrations please be responsible in your actions and remember the Company’s conduct policy.  Managers need to know what their responsibilities are i.e. to step in if an employee’s behaviour becomes inappropriate or places them or the company at risk or not to promise employee anything relating to an employee’s salary, career prospects etc.

Food and drink – Make sure that special dietary requirements are catered for.  If the company is going to supply alcohol at any events, make sure non-alcoholic drinks are available and that staff do not over indulge.  Consider putting a limit on the number of drinks anyone can have and make sure that if you have young workers they are not underage if having alcohol.

Conduct – Whilst the majority of celebrations will be outside of works time, the event is associated with work and therefore companies can be liable for their employee’s actions.  If an employee’s conduct is not appropriate or complaints are being raised, the manager needs to step in and advise the employee they need to stop.  You may even have to take the step to send the person home but should not discipline them at the event.  If an employee raises any work related issues they should be simply told that it is not the time to discuss the issues and ask them to book a meeting during works time.   Any conduct issues on the night need to be address in the cold light of day when everybody is sober through the Company’s disciplinary and/or grievance policies.  Do not ignore any comments stemming from the event but equally take gossip with a pinch of salt.

The end of night – Companies may want to consider how people are getting home after a celebration particularly if it has been arranged by the Company.  This may mean ending an event before public transport finishes.  You should encourage employees to plan how they will get home and it may be worth seeing if the company can get any deals for the employees on taxis or local hotels.

Social media – Most people will engage with a cheeky selfie shot whilst on a night out, but this can lead to headaches within companies if they are seen as inappropriate or contain offensive comments.  Employees should be reminded of the company’s social media policy so that a night out doesn’t lead to a major media scandal within the press.

Gifts and Hospitality

Gifts to and from suppliers – Christmas is the perfect time for suppliers to delivers gifts and hospitality to their clients and in the age of the Bribery Act this can lead to difficulties.  Company’s need to ensure they have a clear policy on how to handle gifts and hospitality, including the recording of the giving and receiving gifts.  Employees will feel more comfortable in refusing gifts if it is company policy and they can refer to this.

Secret Santa – If you are going to run a secret Santa gift exchange between the employees make sure you set the boundaries for this including what the price limit is and the nature of the present.  Again much like celebrations, it should be voluntary and people should not be pressurised into joining.  And on a personal note, make sure you explain the concept of Secret Santa as in our office the secret part of Secret Santa is slightly lost!

Gifts to staff – Companies make want to show their appreciation to staff by giving them a gift such as a box of chocolates.  You just need to ensure that any gifts given would not cause offence and that everybody within the company receives a gift, including part timers, people on fix term contracts and people on leave.  Whilst the HMRC advises that it considers a “seasonal gift, an ordinary bottle of wine” to be trivial.  The ‘trivial’ aspects relates to the work involved in including them on P11Ds and the cost of HRMC handling the returns and issuing coding notices and not the value of the gift.

Bonuses – Companies need to consider what they have in employee’s contracts over payment of bonuses at Christmas time.  If the contracts states employees are entitled to a bonus, failure to pay it could be deemed as a breach of contract.  If you paid discretionary bonuses in the past on a regularly basis and of a similar amount it could be seen as an implied term and again failure to pay could result in a claim of breach of contract.  Any decision to make or not to make bonus payments need to be clearly defined and communicated with staff.  Any vouchers, bonuses and cash payments are taxable.



Time Keeping Issues – in the run up to Christmas there are far more events taking place which may impact on your employee’s ability to attend work on time, from battling higher volume of traffic due to Christmas shoppers and dealing with longer queues at the tills whilst getting lunch.  If your employees are generally good time keepers throughout the year and the odd 5 minutes isn’t disruptive, it may be that you can allow them some leeway during Christmas and a gentle reminder will hit the spot.  Consistency is the golden rule though, if you do not deal with lateness in accordance with your policy and consistently, you could be faced with difficulties when dealing with employees who are late the rest of the year.

Absenteeism – Winter is traditionally the time when absenteeism increases as people are hit with the usual coughs and colds.  However, it can be the season of hangovers and shoppingitis.  Ensure that your absence management policy is up to date and it is applied fairly and consistently.  You need to keep a record of any employee absences and return to work meetings should be completed.  If you hold a Christmas party and expect employees to be in work the next day you should make it clear before the event of what time you expect them to be in work.


Poor weather conditions – Travel disruptions can impact of the ability of employees to get into and home from work.  Therefore companies should consider implementing an adverse weather policy including whether employees can work from home, who they need to report into and whether you can introduce later start times and earlier finish times.

Holiday requests – by now most employees should have submitted holiday request for the Christmas and New Year period but there will always be the last minute requests.  If you cannot close the business, you will need to apply a fair and consistent approach to authorising and rejecting annual leave requests.  Employees are not entitled to have the days off that they want and it has to suit the needs of the business.  You may want to consider what you did last year, i.e. if somebody had the time off last year, they may have to work this year.  You need to clearly communicate how you intend to handle leave request during the Christmas period and when employees should submit requests by.


Religious beliefs

Whilst it is Christmas for a lot of your employees and it can be a time of excitement and celebration of Christianity, it could just be another day for others.  Contrary to popular myth this does not mean that you need to cancel Christmas or take down the decorations in fear of offending someone but it is important to respect the beliefs of all your employees and ensure fair treatment.  Ensure those employees who do not celebrate Christmas are not singled out or indeed excluded from the festivities.  Consider holiday requests and the appearance of alcohol in the workplace and whether there could be a case for discrimination but do not assume.  If in doubt, tactfully discuss their views in private to understand what they do and do not want to take part in.    Companies should ensure equal opportunity polices are up to date and consider training to staff to encourage inclusion.

Hopefully by following our advice you will have the happiest time of the year but if you need support to ensure bells are jingling and good cheer contact HPC for advice on policies, and training for managers.


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