We have written blogs about Christmas parties and how to avoid problems in the past. In this blog we look at other Christmas issues in the workplace.
Can you withhold a Christmas bonus?
There are two types of bonus scheme, discretionary and contractual. The terms of a discretionary scheme need to be clearly set out. You will be entitled to exercise discretion and withhold payment of a bonus. An employee may apply to an employment tribunal for unlawful deductions of wages if you do not pay contractual bonus’. The criteria applied to either sort of bonus scheme should not be discriminatory.
Christmas Hampers or Other Regular Gifts to Employees
Employees could argue the provision of a hamper or gift has become a contractual right as a result of custom and practice. However, this can only happen if you have done this for several years on a regular basis. This could be the case if employees have come to expect to receive a hamper. The employer must also tell employees that such gifts are not guaranteed. Before deciding not to provide hampers, you should explain to your staff why you feel you are unable to do so. Alternatively, you may consider providing a smaller, less expensive gift. Remember to explain to employees why you have made a cutback.
Dress Code and Christmas Jumpers
Some organisations choose to relax their dress code at Christmas. Allowing staff to dress casually and wear Christmas jumpers can help bring some fun into the workplace. Be careful about the wording you use when notifying staff to ensure it is clear that casual and Christmas dress is optional. Be sensitive to employees who do not celebrate Christmas or do not wish to dress any differently at this time of year. If casual dress worn by staff on the days between Christmas and New Year has become a problem, make sure you flag up what dress code is required ahead of time so everyone is aware of what you are expecting.
Christmas is a time when many organisations receive gifts from suppliers and customers. Whilst we all enjoy the odd box of chocolates, you may need to remind staff about what is an acceptable gift. Be clear that they are welcome to keep or share any gifts of minor value that they receive. However, they will need to inform a manager about larger gifts, or gifts where the intention is questionable. For instance, to encourage an agreement of a proposal or sale. Check your own policy and inform staff on what is an acceptable value. Make sure that you clarify what you consider to be a minor gift and what constitutes as a larger gift. If you don’t have a Bribery Policy or guidelines around receiving gifts, this could be a good time to implement one.
Christmas issues in the workplace: Is Christmas just a Christian festival?
Can an employer still hold a Christmas party if some of its employees belong to other religions?
It is unlikely that an employment tribunal would be willing to decide that the holding of a Christmas party constitutes religious discrimination against any non-Christians, contrary to the Equality Act 2010. Christmas parties generally are not really about celebrating religion. Rather they are about improving staff morale, loyalty and thanking employees for all their hard work and efforts over the previous year. However, there is currently no case law on this point. It is possible that a non-Christian employee may one day argue that the office Christmas party discriminates against him or her because the employee’s own religious festival is not also celebrated by the employer.
You must be careful to take the various religions into account when planning the date, location, theme and catering for their Christmas party. For example, an alcohol-fuelled party in a local pub could well deter Muslim employees whose religion forbids association with alcohol. Friday nights cause problems for Orthodox Jewish employees, because they have to be home an hour before dusk for the start of their Sabbath. You may wish to review the proposed arrangements for their Christmas parties and identify areas where staff from different religions might be disadvantaged and then consider how those arrangements could be changed to overcome those disadvantages.
Issues to consider include:
- the venue being suitable and the date is acceptable
- whether or not any theme is likely to cause offence to anyone
- a choice of non-alcoholic drinks are provided
- the menu gives sufficient choice, including vegetarian options
- other dietary requirements are accommodated
If you want to discuss these or any other Christmas Issues in the workplace, give us a call – 01706 565332
Metis HR is a professional HR Consultancy based in the North West of England supporting clients across the country. We specialise in providing outsourced HR services to small and medium-sized businesses. Call us now on 01706 565332 to discuss how we may help you.