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Thursday, 5 November 2015

Member Blog: How to tackle the HR issues that may arise over the festive period

By Michelle Gyimah - Pregnancy and Parental Rights Consultant at Equality Pays 

From the organisation of an office get-together, to the often emotion-fuelled issue of who gets to have time off, the festive period can be the cause of all kinds of HR issues.

Thankfully though, help is at hand. It’s often simply a case of ensuring that you understand your legal obligations, and communicate effectively with your employees.

Here, we give you the answers to some common HR questions that employers face at this time of year.

Q. It’s really difficult keeping our premises warm during the winter months. What are my legal obligations?

A. In the UK, you need to ensure that the minimum temperature in a place of work is 13 degrees for strenuous work, or 16 degrees generally. If it falls below this, you need to take action immediately, or send your employees somewhere warmer (if it’s possible for your staff to carry out their work at home, this could be an option).

Of course, it’s not just your legal responsibilities that are worth mentioning here. If it’s too cold, it could be dangerous for your employees, or they could at least lose concentration and carry out work that is not up to their usual standard. It’s in everyone’s best interests to provide a comfortable workplace.

Q. Do I have to pay for a Christmas party or function for my staff?

A. There’s no legal requirement for you to provide a Christmas party for your staff, unless it’s written in the contract of employment. If you’ve offered this for your employees for many years though, it could be argued that it’s an unwritten agreement.

Legalities aside, a Christmas function can be a great way to thank your staff for their contributions to the business over the past year, and can really increase morale.

Budget will often be an issue, but you don’t have to spend a fortune, and you can spend up to £150 per person on a staff party and it’s tax deductible.

Q. A large number of staff members want to take holidays over the Christmas period, and I’m worried about how this could impact my business. Do I have to give them the holidays they ask for?

A. This all comes down to the finer details of your employment contracts. You need to assess the exact terms and conditions that you’ve laid out regarding how holiday can be taken. In general terms, staff can ask to take holiday at any time, and there should be clear guidelines within your policies that explain how they should do this, and what notice they must give. If your business has particular busy periods, you might decide to state in your contracts that no leave can be taken during this time.

It all comes down to some careful forward planning in terms of your contracts and procedures. If you haven’t yet taken the time to ensure your documentation is in line with business needs, take action now. Speak to an HR professional who will be able to assess your policies and provide guidance on how they can be improved.

Q. Should I consider giving my employees a Christmas bonus?

A. The economy is still delicate, so it’s not surprising that many businesses are wary about giving bonuses. Here, we need to consider contractual requirements, and of course, apply a little common sense.

If it’s stated in the employment contract that workers will receive a bonus, you need to comply with this. If you don’t, you run the risk of facing a tribunal claim. Where this can get a little trickier is when you don’t have anything detailed in your contracts, but employees have always received a bonus, so it’s considered as an accepted custom and practice. In this case, it’s worth speaking to an HR professional about how your business will tackle the issue.

It’s also vitally important that you have crystal clear communications around bonuses, and can explain the criteria for receiving a payment. If you don’t give this some careful consideration, you could leave yourself open to a discrimination claim.

Q. I have a diverse workforce, with staff actively practicing a variety of religions. What issues might I face at this time of year?

A. You’d be hard pushed to find an HR professional or a savvy business owner that didn’t recognise the benefits of having a diverse workforce. Quite simply, it’s great for business. Inevitably though, there are many questions that arise in light of this over the Christmas period.

First of all, your employment contracts are once again vitally important. Check to make sure that yours are up to date and effectively address diversity within your business.

Remember that Christmas is a national holiday within the UK, and it’s recognised among many religious groups (including the non-religious) as having a special status. If you do have many employees from different religions, it may be worthwhile considering making arrangements to recognise other holidays that your staff may wish to celebrate.

If you have any questions about these issues, or other HR matters that are causing you worry in the run up to the festive period, get in touch for a no-obligation discussion.

www.equalitypays.co.uk

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