Whilst Christmas is a wonderful time of the year it can bring challenges in the workplace. Below are a number of common question and answers.

How do I deal with competing holiday requests?

Even though many businesses are closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day you may need staff to work on the days immediately before Christmas and between Christmas and New Year. You should deal with these requests fairly and consider workplace culture and morale and make sure to the extent possible that the same people are not always left covering certain holidays - perhaps considering who might have worked last Christmas, and what cover might be required during this period. It is likely fairer to avoid a first come first served allocation and rather ask for all requests by a particular deadline and then allocate at the same time.

How do I deal with requests from employees who either want to work Christmas and take another day off instead (i.e. another religious festival) or want to get an additional day off to celebrate a religious festival?

This is a tricky issue for employers to navigate as they have obligations not to discriminate against employees because of religion or belief. You must consider whether refusal to grant a different day off as holiday entitlement is indirectly discriminatory against a particular religious group. You do not have grant the day off as additional holiday entitlement, but, unless there is a proportionate and objectively justifiable reasons to say no then you should allow the employee to take the day as holiday.

It is sensible to have it set out clearly in your holiday policy and contract of employment that your business will close on certain public holidays. It is lawful to designate certain days when the workplace is closed, provided that the employees are properly notified of that in advance. Under the working time laws an employer can give an employee notice requiring them to take certain days as leave, provided that they comply with certain requirements, and therefore employers can insist that employees take certain days off as paid holiday.

What risks do Christmas parties and other social events present to an employer?

When alcohol is present in the workplace social context the risks of potential misconduct may increase e.g. in relation to sexual harassment and violent or abusive behaviour. Ensuring that employees and managers have had appropriate training in relation to acceptable behaviours and harassment is key at all times of year but particularly where there are likely to be higher risk situations.

Some employers will give a Christmas bonus or gift. If doing this, you should be mindful or your obligations to act fairly, avoid arbitrary or capricious decision in relation to bonuses, and be mindful of possible discrimination in bonus allocation.

In some cases, such as the giving of Christmas cards, it may be appropriate to use language such as ‘Seasons Greetings’ rather than Christmas, due to the religious connotations of Christmas. This may be particularly relevant where you know that some people in the workforce do not celebrate Christmas.

Is it advisable for an employer to have a policy covering religious observance?

As a general rule it is preferable to have a broad policy in relation to anti-discrimination and harassment, equality and diversity. It is helpful not to be too prescriptive in relation to what you will or will not do in relation to religious holidays for example, as you will need to deal with each case on its facts and ensure that the policies they are applying are fair, proportionate and do not indirectly discriminate against certain religious groups.

Are employees automatically entitled to pay if they are unable to get into work due to adverse weather or travel disruption?

No – unless there is a contractual entitlement to pay in these circumstances or employer policy or custom and practice dictates payment.

Even if there is no legal requirement to pay employees in respect of a period of absence from work caused by travel disruption or adverse weather, an employer may choose to do so to avoid the negative impact that deducting wages could have on employee relations and morale. When weather or travel disruption beyond the employees’ control results in them getting to work late or not at all, to penalise them financially when they have made every reasonable effort to get into work may cause resentment. If employees know they will not be paid if they cannot make it into work, they may be tempted to call in sick instead if the company policy is to pay sick pay. It is advisable to specify that time lost due to adverse weather/travel disruption must be made up at a later date.

Don’t forget, this advice is general in nature and will need to be tailored to any one particular situation. As an RMI member you have access to the RMI Legal advice line, as well as a number of industry experts for your assistance. Should you find yourself in the situation above, contact us at any stage for advice and assistance as appropriate.

Motor Industry Legal Services

Motor Industry Legal Services (MILS Solicitors) provides fully comprehensive legal advice and representation to UK motor retailers for one annual fee. It is the only law firm in the UK which specialises in motor law and motor trade law. MILS currently advises over 1,000 individual businesses within the sector as well as the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMI) and its members.