Christmas do’s and do not’s

It’s that time again, that time of the year that you either love or hate, Its Christmas time! But as this special time of year approaches, so do certain challenges. Here are just a few Christmas do’s and do not’s:

Christmas and that ‘Christmas bonus’

Having a discretionary bonus scheme can be a practical way for a small business to incentivise employees, which are typically considered at the end of the year. Discretionary bonus schemes will often say that a bonus is payable ‘entirely at the employer’s discretion’. In practice, however, labelling a bonus scheme as ‘discretionary’ will not prevent it from requiring some form of clarification. Clear drafting of contracts of employment or a policy relating to the bonus scheme is essential. Employers should also ensure that discretionary schemes are operated fairly and consistently to avoid any potential discrimination claims arising.

Christmas and ‘those’ decorations

I realise there are two sides to the Christmas decorations debate, the side of the scrooge and the side of home owners that try to rival Blackpool with 1001 Christmas lights. To decorate or not to decorate that is the question! What harm can a few Christmas decorations do? They make the office feel more colourful, more fun and invoke that special feeling that only Christmas can bring. After all is Christmas not the time for bringing joy to all man?

Christmas and Health and Safety

Decorations are a bit of fun and uplift even the dullest of offices, but can baubles and tinsel be a health and safety hazard waiting to happen? Christmas lights with plugs need to be PAT tested so you don’t end up with a burnt Christmas tree or more seriously burning down the office! I have heard reports that some employers have actually banned decorations in the office entirely. Fears that staff might hurt themselves while putting up holly or tinsel, especially the potential fire hazard created by the extra paper, plastic and pine may explain the bah-humbug caution. But are these fears actually rooted in reality or is this Scrooge at work again? Has Health and Safety gone a bit OTT?

Apparently “The number of visits to A&E departments owing to slips and trips over the Christmas period is around 80,000, which is not significantly greater than at any other time of the year,” says Roger Bibbings, the occupational safety adviser at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, so perhaps that shows that the H&S risks of decorating the office are minimal. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that your office H&S risk assessment is up to date!

Christmas Parties and being ‘that guy’

Christmas inevitably means a seasonal work party. The tradition of the “Christmas party” is typically a chance for the Employer to thank all their hard working employees for their efforts during the year and give them a good ‘knees up’. It’s also a great way of building internal team relationships. But beware, don’t be that guy that spills drinks over the ladies dresses, that confesses his undying love for the MD’s PA, that kisses a co-worker or that passes out on the bosses lap. Other people may not have had as much to drink as you and they WILL remember the next day and the day after….

After a bit of merriment, some people can get over zealous and distasteful jokes, remarks and colourful language can often be a problem. Beware of jokes, as if they single out one specific characteristic – for example women, this may lead to a potential discriminatory claim. Sexual harassment claims are one of the biggest risks employers can encounter when the alcohol is flowing. What one person may see as harmless flirting; another could view as unwanted sexual attention. Employers can be held accountable to the behaviour of their employees as tribunals view your office party as an extension of your normal work environment. If you are concerned about your employee’s potential merriment at the Christmas party here are a few ideas to think about. Before the party you should send out a clear statement about acceptable behaviour and the consequences of inappropriate actions. Remind everyone that it is a work event and that they are still expected to act in a professional manner and in line with the employee policies and that they are representing the company.

Christmas Parties and employees getting home

Employers have a duty of care to their employees and as it is a work party you need consider how employees will be getting home. If a member of staff has clearly drunk too much at the office Christmas party and plans to drive home, the employer should take responsibility as part of this duty of care. Consider ending the party before public transport stops running; or provide the phone numbers for local cab companies and encourage staff to use them or you could consider laying on transport for them.

Christmas parties and the venue

Generally it is advisable not to hold the Christmas party on your office premises and here is why; body part photocopying (fun at the time, but not after a trip to A&E and definitely not fun for the photocopier machine), damage to company property resulting from desk and chair dancing and the subsequent personal injury claims or theft of company property.

Christmas and the sickies

Sickness can be an issue following any work event where employees are expected to turn up to work the next

day. A way of avoiding this could be suggesting that staff book annual leave if they feel they may be ‘too tired’ the next day to come into work or holding the party on a Friday assuming your employees don’t generally work Saturdays.

Christmas and the tax man

There is a tax exemption for employee entertaining, but there are special rules that apply. The relief only applies to ‘annual parties’ available to all staff and is set at £150 per head. This figure is inclusive of VAT. If the cost of qualifying parties goes over £150 per head then unfortunately all the costs (not just those above £150 per head) are taxable as a benefit in kind. It is important to note that the cost of the party is the whole cost of the event, from the start to the end. Taxis home and any overnight accommodation have to be included in the calculation. If the limit is exceeded the benefit must be reported on each employee’s P11D, so beware before you book your annual Christmas party!

Christmas and gift giving

Gifts to employees

When considering giving Christmas presents to employees it is important to remember that any gift paid in cash to employees will always be taxable along with other earnings. The same treatment also extends to vouchers that can be spent in either one or a number of different shops of the employee’s choice. The employee has to pay tax on the full value of the voucher.

Corporate Gifts – ‘Small’ gifts from third parties’

It is worth noting that gifts can also often be received by your employees from third parties due to contact they may have had with throughout the year as a result of their employment. As long as such gifts do not exceed £250 in cost, it won’t be taxable for the employee. You will need to consider the company’s policy on corporate gifts and what can and cannot be accepted and how these gifts are distributed.

Christmas is a special time of year, a time that people look forward to a well-earned break and seeing family and generally the workplace and the world seems to be a happier place. So, our top do’s and don’ts for this Christmas in the workplace are:

– Do decorate the office, but remember paper chains are flammable.

– Do radiate the Christmas spirit

– Do have a secret Santa

– Do celebrate Christmas at work

But,.….

– Don’t be “that guy” at the Christmas party

– Don’t be the talk of all office gossip after the party

– Don’t encourage staff to overindulge with alcohol

– Don’t be a scrooge

And,…

Do have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

HRREV Blogger, HR Revolution | HR Outsourcing UK

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