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The Twelve Bells of Wisdom for Employers at Christmas

With the festive season approaching and Christmas parties firmly back on the agenda, we look at some workplace issues commonly faced by employers at this time of year and suggest some practical tips for dealing with them successfully.

1. Prevention is Better than Cure! 

Always remember the health and safety of staff and clients around this festive season. Employers are obliged under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Acts 2005, to provide a safe place of work. This should include arranging safe travelling options to and from any events and possibly the next morning also. It should also ensure safety notices and procedures at the venue and precautions to avoid the event getting out of hand e.g., time restrictions, alcohol serving time limits and the quantity of free alcohol.

2. Remind Staff of What is Naughty and not Nice?

Each year without exception, we are asked to advise employers about an issue that occurred at a work or client Christmas party. Before the Christmas party, it is advisable to send a reminder to all staff that they are expected to conduct themselves properly and that any inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated and will be subject to the disciplinary policy. Employees should be reminded that all workplace policies apply to the event including the bullying, discrimination, harassment and sexual harassment policies and that they must respect their colleagues and not to let alcohol blur their perception or result in inappropriate behaviour or conduct. Inform employees that should anything inappropriate occur at the event that they should utilise the internal policies.

You should keep evidence of this reminder to assist in defending a possible claim of vicarious liability in respect of the conduct of employees. 

3. Social Media Control 

Before the Christmas party, circulate rules about employee posts and pictures on social media in respect of work events, reminding staff about posting anything that may put the company’s reputation into disrepute and to respect individuals’ privacy rights.

Make sure that employees are clear on your social media policy and what is appropriate to post online. If you do not currently have a social media policy in place for your business, this could be the perfect opportunity to get one drawn up. A social media policy will make it clear to employees what the consequences of any breaches of the policy will be, including breaches of data policy, bullying and harassment and damage to the reputation of your business.

4. The After Party Issues

Do not delay addressing issues or allegations about what may have occurred at the Christmas party. You have a duty of care to all employees to ensure that these issues are addressed as soon as possible so that no-one is anxious about coming into work or considers such behaviour as acceptable.

5. Sick-v-Hangover

There may be a few sore heads during the festive season. Ensure that you follow your sick leave policy and request sick certs for absences in accordance with the policy during the festive period. Remind staff not to drive to work if out the night before. Do not allow staff to attempt to work if in safety critical roles. 

6. Respect Different Cultures at Christmas

Respect and consideration should be given to the different beliefs and religions that may be present in your workplace.

7. Rules to Avoid Inappropriate Gifts at Work

“Kris Kindle / Secret Santa” gifts have become part of the Christmas fun but sometimes the anonymity involved may result in inappropriate gifts being exchanged between colleagues. It is advisable to remind staff to take care with “Kris Kindle / Secret Santa” gifts, and that a “funny present” may not be the best idea for a work colleague, if it has the potential to cause offence or even constitute harassment.

8. Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Don’t forget about employees who are absent on sick leave or protected leave (e.g. maternity leave, parental leave, carer’s leave etc.).

9. Charity Without Pressure

Be mindful not to put financial pressure on employees when encouraging charity donations.

10. Be Aware that Christmas is Not Merry for Everyone

While it may be “the most wonderful time of the year” Christmas can also be a difficult time for some. It is important to ensure that all employees are made aware of the Employee Assistance Program or other support services should they need support or to speak to someone in confidence.

11. Tax Efficient Bonus

If you are thinking of rewarding staff with a bonus this Christmas, it may be more beneficial to give employees gift vouchers or ‘non-cash benefit’. You can give employees up to two small non-cash benefits, tax free each year. These benefits can have a combined maximum value of €1,000 without attracting PAYE, USC or PRSI.

12. January Blues

It is worth giving your staff something to look forward to in the New Year to address the blues when returning to work. This may also reduce absenteeism in the early weeks of January and create a more productive atmosphere.   

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Anne O’Connell Solicitors!

December 2023

Anne O’Connell Solicitors

19- 22 Lower Baggot Street

Dublin 2 


The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.

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