01 November 2019

As winter and Christmas approaches, along with the bad weather, boozy workplace parties and staff absences, what should employers do to ensure a joyful festive season? Dawn Gallie, Head of Employment at Dorset and Somerset law firm Battens Solicitors, answers employers’ five top questions.

1. Where employees are unable to get to work, what can employers do due to bad weather or travel disruption?

A. Generally, employees have no automatic right to pay if they are unable to get to work, subject always to their contracts. Employers could take a view and at their discretion continue to pay or, alternatively, pay for part and allocate the rest as annual leave.

In advance of bad weather you could consider allowing employees to work from home or establish alternative working patterns so disruption can always be kept to a minimum. Flexible management can go a long way towards encouraging good morale and employer-employee relations, not to mention continued productivity.

2. What about the situation where adverse weather closes schools? Aren’t parents automatically allowed to stay at home to look after their children?

A. Parents are entitled to reasonable, unpaid time off to enable them to look after their children and to make alternative arrangements for their care. They are not entitled to prolonged time off and, if the closures are likely to be long term, employees need to make other arrangements for the care of their children.

3. I’m worried about the potential for unruly behaviour at Christmas parties. What can I do?

A. Tread carefully. Christmas parties can indeed provide more than just a hangover for employers. Actions at the office ‘do’ can have ramifications long into the New Year as drinking and being merry can get out of hand. Employers are liable for the actions of their employees during the course of employment, and this liability extends to Christmas parties. Unwanted advances, discriminatory ‘banter’ and sexual innuendoes have resulted in a number of cases at the Employment Tribunal. Informing a boss what they can do with their job is likely to be a dismissible offence but if there’s free booze and encouragement from the company then dismissal for unruly and drunken behaviour could be unfair.

4. What about people who might not turn up for work the following day, saying their absence is because of the party?

A. If you’ve organised a mid-week party and expect people at work the following day, make sure this is clear and that disciplinary action may follow for those who call in ‘sick’. You might want to consider an incentive in the form of a bacon butty or other breakfast treat for all staff the following morning or perhaps allow a slightly later start time.

5. Can I shut our workplace over Christmas and insist staff take the time as part of their annual holiday? Alternatively, can I require staff to work on Christmas Day or Boxing Day?

A. You can potentially require employees to take holiday at certain times of the year and by giving the required notice. Again, check what it says in employees’ contracts about the amount and allocation of holidays. If in doubt it is always best to check with your HR advisers.

Employees have no automatic right to take Christmas Day or any other day off but the matter of when holidays apply is usually dealt with clearly in contracts of employment. Often employees are entitled to the normal bank and statutory holidays, which would apply to Christmas and Boxing Day. Where employees are required to work bank holidays, a day off in lieu must be given.

BattensHR is a dedicated service providing fixed-fee HR and employment advice. For more information contact Dawn Gallie, Head of Employment on 01935 846233 or

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