I have an employee who did not meet the Christmas bonus requirement; however, she claims that she should qualify as her extra day off was an “emergency hospital visit”. Where do I go from here?

Questions regarding Christmas bonuses are, as might be expected, very common at this time of year and employers often have to deal with both queries from their staff about why they are not eligible for the bonus or claims that they are in fact eligible and have not been treated fairly.

Generally speaking, the guidelines an employer sets to decide whether or not an employee qualifies for a Christmas bonus are at the employer’s discretion. Therefore, if one of the criteria is that a certain number of days’ sickness absence disqualifies the employee from receiving the bonus, and an employee has passed that threshold, they simply do not qualify. While this may seem harsh in some situations, making allowances for some individuals and not others may open the floodgates to complaints from other members of staff; having set criteria and sticking to it would probably lead to the fairest outcome overall.

It would be good practice to implement a company policy regarding the specific requirements that employees must satisfy in order to qualify for a Christmas bonus. This could include definitions of what counts as a “sick day”, whether there are any circumstances where a sick day will not count against Christmas bonus eligibility, and any other criteria that must be met.

Making employees aware of this policy from the outset and reminding them at the start of each year will make sure they are clear about where they stand and will inevitably reduce the number of queries employers have in this regard in the run up to Christmas.

There are some circumstances, however, where employers may be required to be more lenient. The introduction of the Equality Act 2010 raised the profile of an employer’s consideration of certain absences when they form a criterion for employee benefits. If absences are in relation to, for example, pregnancy related illness or disability, there is distinct potential that using these to disqualify an employee from receiving a bonus could lead to a discrimination claim.

If you have any queries regarding Christmas bonuses please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.