Frequently asked festive HR questions

Gemma O'Connor - Head of Service

December 04 2023

First published: December 4th 2023
Last updated: December 4th 2023

The Christmas season tends to be a crucial period for many small businesses and can make or break their profit margin for the year.

It’s really important therefore that employee issues don’t distract you from your main priority of serving customers and clients during this busy period.

Here we take a look at some common HR questions we receive around the busy Christmas season.

Do I have to give contracts to seasonal staff?

Yes. Seasonal staff have the same legal rights and protections as full-time staff. At minimum, you need to provide seasonal employees with a written statement of terms and conditions or a written contract of employment as well as a written statement of the core terms within five days of starting work.

Our HR documentation experts can help you ensure you comply with your obligations in this regard.

How do I minimise absenteeism during the busiest time of the year?

Having a strong absence management policy and procedure year-round is the best way to minimise absenteeism.

The return-to-work interview is a key part of any effective absence management policy. Employees are less likely to take unauthorised absences to enjoy the Christmas festivities or do their shopping if they know they’ll have to complete a return-to-work interview.

If there is evidence that any absences are not for genuine reasons, you may need to take disciplinary action. Ensure you follow the steps outlined in your disciplinary procedures and if you do need to sanction an employee, make sure it’s an appropriate response to the offence.

What do I do if someone turns up to work drunk?

It’s a time of year when people catch up and sometimes the Christmas spirit might get the better of your staff.

If employees turn up for work worse for wear after a heavy night of drinking, you need to decide how to approach the employee. If an employee is hungover and their level of work is not acceptable, you may need to have a private chat with them and explain that a hangover does not give them permission to slack.

If an employee is still under the influence, you may need to take more serious action. If an employee is still under the influence, there may be health and safety risks to consider and it might be necessary to suspend the employee pending further investigation.

Consider sending a memo to employees reminding them of their responsibilities over the Christmas season and how important it is to maximise productivity at this time of year.

You could also refer to your alcohol and drug policy and remind staff in safety critical roles that disciplinary action up to and including dismissal will be taken if they fail to meet their responsibilities.

How do I protect my business against claims arising from Christmas party incidents?

The Christmas party should be a chance for everyone to meet in a more relaxed environment and to celebrate another year in a successful business.

The danger from a HR point of view is that employees may be more likely to act inappropriately once they are away from the professional environment of the workplace.

To protect your business against a variety of HR risks, you should circulate a memo in advance of the party reminding staff of their responsibilities.

You can include any relevant policies from your employee handbook such as codes of conduct, alcohol consumption, anti-harassment, absence, health and safety, disciplinary/grievance and social media.

And remember to defend a harassment claim, you must be able to show that you took all reasonably practical steps to prevent the harassment from taking place. As well as evidence that staff have read and understood your policies, your defence will stand up better if your employees have also received training on anti-harassment policies and measures in your workplace.

Can I insist staff work overtime to meet Christmas demand?

Yes, provided your contract of employment allows for this. There are a few things to bear in mind.

Working time rules state that employees should not work more than an average of 48 hours per over a four-month reference period (six months in certain sectors).

Ensure that staff don’t breach these limits if they are working overtime.

You should also ensure that staff receive their overtime pay and benefits for their extra hours. This should be set out in your contract of employment and it’s vital to comply with your own terms to avoid employee unrest and/or legal claims.

How do I handle lots of holiday requests over the Christmas period?

You will need to rely on your annual leave policy.

This can be a difficult issue to handle with staff so you may need to set limits in writing confirming how many days of annual leave employees can take during the Christmas period.

The most important thing when dealing with multiple annual leave requests is to be fair and consistent. For most employers, the fairest approach to manging annual leave is operate a first-come, first-served policy that requires all staff to follow the same procedure.

While it won’t be possible to accommodate everyone, if the rules are the same for all staff, you can demonstrate that everyone is treated fairly.

Need employment law or HR help with a festive HR question?

If you have any questions around how to handle employees in the run up to Christmas, call one of our HR and employment law experts today on 1800 719 216.

Suggested Resources