Whilst most of us await Christmas with a mixture of eager anticipation and dread, it is fair to say that for small employers, managing your business through the Christmas period can be a tricky business especially when staffing considerations of all kinds are thrown into the mix. Whether we’re talking about time off, staff cover, higher levels of sickness absence, the Christmas party, Christmas Gifts or the Christmas bonus, these things are fraught with potential problems…..so here are some tips to help you plan a smooth operation over the Christmas period.
1. Many businesses close over the Christmas period although, in recent years, more and more business owners have wanted to retain a degree of flexibility and to have the right to ask staff to come in over the Christmas break should the business need arise. So the simplest way to ensure that you can require your employees to come into work if you need to is to provide for this with an appropriate clause in your contract or staff handbook.
2. On the other hand, you may not wish your employees to work, but you don’t want to give them additional time off over and above their normal holiday entitlement – so inform your employees in their contract and under your holiday procedure that you will be holding back 3 or 4 days each year to be taken over the Christmas period. Yes, you can do this! The law specifies a minimum holiday entitlement each year, but you as an employer can determine when that holiday is taken.
3. Diversity. With our increasingly multi-cultural society, the chances are that you will be employing staff from various ethnic and religious backgrounds some of whom will not celebrate Christmas. Sensitivity to the religious beliefs of others in embedded in law and you need to be sure that you are not imposing upon staff members who may not wish to celebrate Christmas, nor making assumptions that because of this they may wish to provide cover whilst the rest of the staff are on holiday. Make sure that all staff are treated with the same consideration over the Christmas period.
4. Providing minimum cover. If you require a skeleton staff to be available over the Christmas break to deal with any business requirement. Make sure that you select carefully those who you want to work. You can start by asking for volunteers, but if that doesn’t work, set up a rota system each year which will then demonstrate that you are being fair to all your staff over this period.
5. The Christmas Party. We’ve heard a lot about the Christmas party and employers’ vicarious liability for the behaviour of their staff – but how do you ensure that your employees behave properly on an occasion which is designed to allow them to let their hair down, and what action should you take if it goes wrong? Make it clear to all employees standards of behaviour you expect at the Christmas party and also ensure that there is a senior person in attendance at the party with responsibility for dealing with any problems that may arise. Follow a standard disciplinary process with any employee who has not conformed to you express standards and treat the matter as you would any other occurring during working time.
6. Dealing with the hangover absences and duvet days can also be difficult around Christmas time. How do you deal with an employee who takes time off following a good night out? There’s no better cure for the hangover absence than a return to work interview. Make sure you carry this out as soon as the employee returns to work and make it very clear that you are monitoring absence and will deal with abuse of sickness absence provisions through the disciplinary procedure. You might also consider requiring employees to provide a medical certificate on the first day of any future absences. You may have to pay for it, but it is unlikely that the situation will occur again! If you pay company sick pay make sure you have a clause in your contract that allows you to withhold pay in the event of abuse of the company’s policy.
7. Gifts at Christmas. Many suppliers will shower your employees with gifts prior to the Christmas period as part of their marketing offensive. But, beware, recent anti-bribery legislation may mean that they are falling foul of the law if they accept them. Make sure you have a clear anti-bribery policy and that all staff are aware of it. Why not introduce a system whereby all gifts should be donated to a Company raffle which can be held just before the break for Christmas, and all proceeds go to a nominated charity?
8. The Christmas bonus. Giving a financial bonus at Christmas to your employees in acknowledgement of the good work they have done through the year is a pleasant gesture. However, make sure that it is clear to your employees that this bonus is awarded at the discretion of management and is not a contractual right. Do this by ensuring that an appropriate clause is put in the contract, or you will find yourself having to shell out bonuses f year, regardless of the performance of the company and your staff.
9. Getting a break yourself over Christmas. Yes, even you the business owner needs a break, but how much of a break will that be if you’re worrying about what is happening whilst you are away? Plan how cover is to be given, appoint one individual to take overall responsibility whilst you’re away, and make it clear to them what actions they need to take in the event of a real problem. Use the resources you have available to manage and deflect issues over this period, so that you can return refreshed and ready for a successful and prosperous New Year!
10. Getting things started in 2013. It always takes a while for staff to get moving again following the long Christmas break. Sometimes another week is lost at the beginning of January whilst your staff recover following the holiday. Having a briefing meeting on the first day back can help to re-orientate the staff and focus on the tasks and plans you have for your business in the coming year. This will help oil the wheels and inspire your staff onwards and upwards in 2013.