This is traditionally the time of year when preparations are well underway for the annual Christmas festivities. Whether it is the Christmas party, gift and bonuses for staff or a workplace shutdown, excitement is normally mounting about the planned activities. Coronavirus has clearly put a significant dent in the normal Christmas proceedings but there are still considerations for employers. Below are a few areas that may need to be thought through before the festive season to avoid a bleak mid-winter:
Depending on your point of view this is traditionally the biggest high or low point of the company’s calendar. Whether your business continues to attend the workplace, and therefore a small event is held on the premises, or you are considering an online event, manging expectations by issuing a statement about behaviour before the event is always a good idea. Whilst it might be unreasonable to expect employees to stay completely sober you can make it clear that behaviour likely to cause offence or embarrassment is unacceptable. Your party should be viewed as an extension of the workplace where normal rules on conduct apply whether if it takes place outside of work time and away from work premises or not. Issues such as serving alcohol to employees under the age of 18, permitting or ignoring the use of illegal substance or drink-driving continue to apply if they occur in a work setting. A Christmas party does not negate the employer’s legal obligation and duty of care for their staff.
Absence from work
Even with the significant increase in businesses that now work from home, absence from work over the Christmas period always requires planning. For some companies employees may not have taken the expected level of leave allocated to them over the year so Christmas is a time to actively encourage this to be taken. Employers need to be clear how much leave (if any) can be carried over into another leave year and support employees to take time away from work through workload planning. For unexpected absences it is just as important to be transparent about what is considered appropriate and what is not, regardless of whether staff are in the workplace or remote. Even if you have strong suspicions that an employee is absent due to a hangover rather than genuine sickness, evidence is needed as proof if that person had phoned in sick. Where you do have adequate evidence to take disciplinary action, ensure that you apply the rules consistently.
Performance and productivity
There is often a drop in performance level over the festive period as people are distracted with plans and activities to enjoy the season. Depending on your business this may or may not be a risk you can absorb. If your business recognises that many of your customers or suppliers experience a slight ‘foot off the gas’ period then it can be an opportunity to reward staff for their work over an exceptional year, and enjoy a less pressured few days at work. If on the other hand you need your staff to operate at the continued level of performance and productivity over Christmas then it is important to be clear and transparent about what is expected. Staff are more willing to go the extra mile if they understand the legitimate reason for doing so, particularly if you can indicate when things will be less full-on and staff have the opportunity to plan when to take a break in the future. Being upfront about performance will ensure there are no assumptions by managers or staff and staff have the opportunity to raise any potential concerns they have before they happen.
Gifts and bonuses
It has been an unforgettable year and it’s unsurprising that employers want to recognise the efforts of their workforce by giving them something extra at Christmas. Giving a bonus to employees can be a more straightforward option than other Christmas treats. As bonuses are treated as normal pay, they are processed through the company’s payroll and will be subject to tax, PRSI and USC in the normal way. A tax free one off gift to the value of €500 can be provided to employees once a year and many employers often opt for a voucher as part payment of a bonus. The tax free gift must not be cash and may only be provided once throughout the year. If for example you provide an employee with a €100 voucher, any further vouchers or gifts are subject to tax. To find out more about the tax limits on expense and gifts visit the Revenue website by clicking on the link here https://www.revenue.ie/small-benefit-exemption.
Johanne O’Halleron at Peopletime Ltd, advises: “Unfortunately Christmas has the opportunity to lead to complaints from staff once the dust has settled. Whether it’s an issue about inappropriate behaviour, discrimination claims from employees from a different religion or drunken promises about promotions, they can all turn a time of celebration into a huge headache. My advice for all employers is to make sure they have robust grievance and disciplinary procedures in place and that all staff are aware of them before the festivities begin. If there is a claim from an employee gather evidence thoroughly, particularly if alcohol had been consumed and take complaints of bullying or harassment seriously as “it was just the Christmas party” is unlikely to stand as a good defence at a tribunal. Although the traditional Christmas period may be different this year it is all the more reason to think ahead and make sure you have everything in place to be able to enjoy the well-earned break we need. I think we all deserve it this year!”