Four workplace issues commonly faced by employers at this time of year can be:
- The Christmas Party
As Christmas approaches, the airwaves commonly tell of stories concerning inappropriate behaviour in the workplace and sexual harassment claims arising perhaps during a work place party or the like. This is an important reminder of the significance of respecting dignity at work and of having appropriate bullying and harassment policies in place.
Employers need to be vigilant that employees understand that just because they are attending the Christmas party, it does not mean that normal rules around appropriate workplace behaviour do not apply for the night. Employees should be trained and briefed, or, at the very least, reminded that they are expected to observe any respect and dignity at work and/or bullying/harassment policies at work-related events. Employers should introduce these policies where they currently are not in place. Policies should include references to work-related social events.
- Public Holidays
Under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 (1997 Act) there are three public holidays over the Christmas period. 1) Christmas Day, 25th December; 2) St Stephen’s Day, 26th December; and 3) New Year’s Day, 1st January. Employees who qualify for public holiday benefit will be entitled to one of the following:
- A paid day off on the public holiday.
- An additional day of annual leave.
- An additional days pay, or
- A paid day off within a month of the public holiday.
Most employees are entitled to the benefit of public holidays. One exception applies to part-time employees who have not worked for their employer for at least 40 hours in total in the five weeks before the public holiday.
- Adverse Weather Days
Where employees are not required to attend work due to adverse weather, for example, because the employer has closed for the workplace for the day or the employer asks them not to come in, or to leave early, then employees should be paid as normal.
When the employer’s business remains open and employees are unable to attend due to safety concerns taking into consideration any custom and practice in operation within the employer, there is no obligation on employers to pay employees during this time.
Absent of any policy on the issue, consider this and communicate to employees, if appropriate, how time-off during this time will be treated. For example, the employer may:
- Continue to pay employees as normal.
- Require the employee to work from home.
- Allow employees to take the missed time from their paid annual leave entitlement, or
- Agree that employees can make up the missed time at a later date.
- Decorating the Office
Under health and safety legislation, employers are obliged to provide and maintain a safe place of work for employees. While employer’s health and safety obligations need not dampen the festive spirit in the workplace, employers should take common sense worker safety precautions when it comes to decorating the office for Christmas.
Employers should take precautions such as making sure that Christmas trees are not blocking fire escape routes or exits and checking any novelty items for defects.
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