12 Nays of Christmas: the top festive HR issues to avoid

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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

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Christmas is a time of joy for most. But for many employers, high spirits and heightened emotions can lead to major HR issues…

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Christmas is a time of joy for most. But for many employers, high spirits and heightened emotions can lead to major HR issues…

Discover the top 12 festive issues employers face each year – and what you can do to avoid them.

On the first day of Christmas, HR gave to me: Carnage at the Christmas party

A few festive drinks are fine in most cases – but one too many can cause chaos.

Whether it’s a drunken request for a raise or a smooch between colleagues, your Christmas party could leave staff reeling with more than just a headache the next day.

Which means you could be left to deal with the fallout from verbal or physical confrontations or sexual harassment. And while these incidents may not have taken place on your premises, usual workplace rules still apply.

Remind staff that inappropriate behaviour at the Christmas party could lead to disciplinary action –as they may not realise their actions outside the workplace could affect their employment.

On the second day of Christmas, HR gave to me: Two office loves

Workplace relationships can often be inevitable.

However, if an office affair comes to light at Christmas, it can lead to gossip and rumours. Especially when cheating is involved…

Whether it’s a one-off incident or an ongoing affair, it’s important to tread carefully.

You can manage the situation from the outset by having an office romance policy within your employee handbook. Your policy should set out clear guidelines, like:

  • Banning senior and delegate relationships.
  • Asking for disclosure of relationships.
  • Asking seniors to move positions when relationships develop.

On the third day of Christmas, HR gave to me: Sneaky online spends

With the festive season in full swing, your staff might have long lists of gifts to buy. But that doesn’t mean it should be done on company time…

Rather than simply blocking retail websites, it’s better to educate staff about your internet policy. Staff can use their designated break times and personal devices to snap up bargains or track down that must-have gift – without eating into their productivity.

On the fourth day of Christmas, HR gave to me: Gifts or illegal perks?

A nice hamper or a bottle of wine makes the perfect Christmas gift, but staff need to think twice before gifting anything expensive… as it could fall foul of bribery laws.  

It’s important staff know where to draw the line when it comes to giving or receiving gifts from clients or potential clients.

No matter how big or small your business, take time to read up on the Bribery Act 2010 and introduce polices to avoid liability from gifts that could be considered bribes.

Bear in mind that gifts should be used to show gratitude and not to influence individuals to act in a certain way, like to renew a contract.

On the fifth day of Christmas, HR gave to me: Elf and Safety risks

The National Accident Helpline claims that 2.6 million people have fallen off a stool or ladder whilst hanging up decorations, and 80,000 people a year need hospital treatment during the Christmas period.

So while it’s great to bring the joys of the season into the workplace, you need to take steps to reduce any risk. Here’s what you should bear in mind:

  • Inspect the ladder for any signs of damage before use.
  • Get a second person to secure the steps for stability.
  • Avoid hanging decorations anywhere that could interfere with electrical fittings.
  • Avoid draping decorations near radiators or electrical heaters, as this is a fire risk.

On the sixth day of Christmas, HR gave to me: Next day swaying

People often underestimate the amount of time it takes for alcohol to leave their system, and the number of drink drive arrests in the mornings significantly rises this time of year.

So with staff getting merry over December, there’s an increased risk of employees coming to work over the legal limit. To avoid this, alert your staff to your alcohol and drug policies.

When it comes to jobs that require driving or heavy machinery, you should have a zero tolerance policy towards use of alcohol or drugs. This includes when employees are still over the limit from the night before.

The best course of action is to send employees home to sleep it off (ensuring they don’t drive home), followed by a serious discussion the following day.

On the seventh day of Christmas, HR gave to me: Seven people slipping

The temperatures may plunge, but you don’t want anyone in the workplace doing so! As an employer, you’re responsible for reducing the risk of injuries caused by snow and ice.

Make sure all walkways on your premises are free from ice and snow, well lit, and clearly marked.

Hazardous areas should be fenced off and ensure any slippery surfaces inside the building are well marked. When roads are slippery, you could allow staff to work from home or wait until the conditions improve.

Of course, remind your staff to do their bit as well, like wearing sensible footwear and to avoid driving to work on icy roads.

On the eighth day of Christmas, HR gave to me: Non-inclusive festivities 

Not everyone celebrates Christmas.

Forcing festive activities like Secret Santa and Christmas jumper day might make some staff feel uncomfortable – so it’s always best to make them optional.

Many religious holidays take place around this time of year – like Winter Solstice or Hannukah. Weaving in other cultural celebrations will help all your staff feel appreciated.

On the ninth day of Christmas, HR gave to me: Bonus expectations

They’re nice to receive, but do you have to give employees a Christmas bonus?

In short, no.

You’re under no obligation to give staff Christmas bonuses, and many employers just won't have the ability to do this after a tough two years. Bonuses are just that – a bonus to say thank you or reward good performance, rather than an expectation.

Of course, if a Christmas bonus is promised in the contract of employment, that’s a different story. Both you and your employee are bound by the terms of the contract and must follow them.

If you amend your employee’s contract, you need to notify them within one month of making the change. 

On the tenth day of Christmas, HR gave to me: Clashes over the rota

There is no legal right to have Christmas day off – unless you’ve written this into staff contracts, of course.

While you don’t want to be a Scrooge, it might not be possible to grant all your staff time off this year. Especially if you receive a raft of last-minute requests…

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that staff with young families should be given priority when it comes to taking time off over Christmas. This isn't strictly true.

Everyone is equally entitled to request annual leave, and this can be an important time of year for many people – not just those with young children.  

To decide who gets the time off, consider using a fair ‘first-come first-served’ system. This means you won’t face accusations of unfairness.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, HR gave to me: Dress down griping

Relaxing your dress code or throwing a Christmas jumper day?

Without clear guidance, staff could accidentally cause offence. Make sure staff avoid coming into work with outfits that include slogans or images that could cause upset.

So if you amend your dress code during the festive season, make sure you clearly outline your rules in advance.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, HR gave to me: Seasonal suffering

For many, Christmas is a time to be joyous – but it's not so easy for everybody.

Christmas can often heighten feelings of grief. Plus, gloomy mornings and darker nights can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder for some staff.

Don't turn a blind eye to employees who might be struggling at this time of year. Make sure they know where to go to seek support. If you have an Employee Assistance Programme, make sure staff know how to access the service.

Most importantly, make sure your employees feel supported and able to speak up if they’re struggling.

The pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone, and, for many, this could be the first Christmas without a loved one. To be supportive, consider flexible working or other adjustments that could help them through this time.

Got a festive staff issue?

Whatever festive issues you’re facing, you can reach out to your Peninsula advisers for expert advice. So whether you have a question about winter safety or staff conflict, you can stay safe and drama-free this Christmas.

Call now on 0800 028 2420 or get a quote for affordable HR or health & safety support today.

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