The Holidays Are Almost Here: Is Your Company Prepared?
By Laura Leo, Senior HR Consultant, Radius
There are many management-related challenges that arise during the festive season (or the holiday season, as my US counterparts call it), and multinationals need to plan for these in advance. This post explores coverage during the end-of-year period, as well as developing related policies and procedures. These are prominent challenges that many of our clients seek advice on.
Coverage and Vacation
The end of the calendar year encompasses Christmas, New Year’s and often Hanukkah celebrations, routinely giving managers headaches as they scramble to plan for sufficient coverage. Most employees want to spend time with their families during this season and request to take vacation around public holidays to lengthen their time off. This is particularly common in countries where Christmas is highly celebrated, for example in most European countries.
It is imperative that requests for vacation are dealt with fairly and equitably in order to avoid discrimination claims. Here are some ways to ensure this:
- Review employees who took end-of-year vacations last year and make sure different employees have an opportunity this year.
- Avoid giving “early birds” guaranteed approval of their vacation requests. Instead, advise all employees that end-of-year vacation requests must be submitted by a certain date and that all requests will be reviewed together at that time.
- Brief your managers to ensure their practices are in line with company policies, including especially that those practices are not discriminatory.
On the other side of the coin, many industries experience a drop in customer demand at the end of the year. Companies in this situation may require fewer employees to work, and in some instances may even temporarily close during this period.
Here are a few points for employers in this situation:
- Collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) are likely to stipulate specific rules regarding office closures, and such agreements must be reviewed to ensure the company is not in breach.
- Consideration must be given to how emergency situations will be resolved in the event the company is closed or severely understaffed. (Consider both customer- and employee-related emergencies.)
- Local legislation, and potentially CBAs, will provide parameters regarding whether or not an employee can be forced to use their annual vacation entitlement during company-closure periods. This should be taken into account when determining employee-leave entitlements.
- If an employer operates in multiple countries, and some of those jurisdictions don’t recognize the same holidays (e.g., Christmas), then it needs to consider how to equitably and legally manage office closures and related time off across the different locations.
Maintaining clearly written, legally complaint policies governing vacation and company-closure periods will not only help you manage the end-of-year period, it will help you manage effectively all year long. Due to the importance of such policies — particularly for companies that operate in multiple countries — employers often wisely seek guidance from third-party experts when developing them.
Coverage and Public Holidays
Depending on their industry and other factors, employers may need their employees to work on public holidays during the end-of-year period. Employers in this situation must consider local laws and customs when developing related policies.
Legislative requirements can vary dramatically across countries, and even across different regions of the same country. Depending on the nature of your company’s global operations, it can be difficult to navigate these legal waters. Here are just a few country-specific examples of related employer obligations:
- Australia. Legislation stipulates that an employer can request that its employees work during a public holiday if required by company policy, but this practice is unusual. CBAs (known as "modern awards" in Australia) can provide additional employee entitlements, including extra pay, an extra day off, minimum shift lengths and/or the ability to substitute the public holiday for another day off.
- Hong Kong. Legislation regarding working time and public holidays in Hong Kong is complex. If an employer requires an employee to work on a public holiday, for example, the employer must provide an alternative day off within 60 days before or after the date of the holiday, and the employer must give the employee at least 48 hours' notice before the earlier of the alternative day off or public holiday. The employer must not make any form of payment to an employee in lieu of granting a public holiday.
- Spain. Legislation provides that employees must receive paid leave on public holidays and can only be required to work under exceptional circumstances. If an employee does work on a public holiday, they must receive their normal pay plus equivalent time off. Local CBAs may provide additional entitlements for working on public holidays.
Even in jurisdictions where it is legally possible to request that an employee works on a public holiday, employers should consider local customs, best practices and industry norms in order to remain competitive when recruiting and retaining quality talent.
Celebrations and Discrimination
End-of-year company parties are generally seen as a time to celebrate a company’s recent successes and to reward employees for their hard work. They also may incidentally celebrate Christmas, and employers should be mindful that this emphasis can be problematic. Though it is unlikely a court in most jurisdictions would rule in favor of an employee who claimed that he or she was discriminated against on the basis of an end-of-the-year party, employers should nevertheless be careful not to discriminate against any employees on the basis of religion. Christmas is of course not the only consideration. Some religions ban alcohol consumption, for example.
The evolution of discrimination legislation related to end-of-year parties is an area to watch in the coming years, particularly in the UK. As with all matters related to HR, it is imperative that your company keeps up to date with any legal changes to reduce the risk of fines and reputational damage.
Celebrations and Behavior
The festive season is often accompanied by an increase in employee misconduct, particularly in relation to end-of-year parties. Such issues range from employees becoming less productive (as they become distracted and focused on workplace and personal celebrations) to serious misconduct that may expose the employer to bullying and harassment or safety claims.
An employer can take a number of actions to minimize the risk of employee misconduct matters at the end of the year. In addition to those actions already noted, these include:
- Preparing a company policy regarding workplace celebrations to cover any end-of-year parties and general workplace social events to ensure that the employer’s duty of care is met.
- Considering sending communications to employees ahead of any celebration to outline the behaviors expected of them and the consequences of not meeting such expectations, including disciplinary actions following the event.
- Planning the specifics of the end-of-year party carefully, taking into account health and safety risks such as providing alcoholic drinks to employees. It is advisable to limit free alcohol provided to employees and to manage how they will travel home after celebrations.
We must all be mindful that the festive season is not always a happy time for everyone. We may have colleagues, in fact, who find this period upsetting and stressful. These stresses may lead some employees to take a greater number of sick days than they usually would, and this must be dealt with sensitively and in line with legislative requirements of the country in which the employee is based.
This blog post highlights the importance of having clear and legally compliant company policies and procedures in place. The end-of-year period, when items such as recruiting may be less of a priority, is a good opportunity to focus on these critical areas.
For more information, watch Laura’s webinar, Effective Absence Management.