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Peter Etherington
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Employment Update for Small Businesses
December 2021

Dear Subscriber

There is not much to report in the world of employment law as the year end approaches. So instead, we share a few thoughts on issues to consider from an HR perspective as we head towards the festive season.

Also, we have news of a Christmas offer from our partners, breatheHR.

Whilst we are on the subject, Lindsey and I would like to wish you all a very happy Christmas. This time last year we expressed the hope that 2021 would prove to be a lot better than 2020 – oh well! I am sure 2022 will be a huge improvement!

Please contact me if you would like to find out a bit more about any of the subjects raised in this update or if you need any help or advice.

Please forward this email to any of your contacts who might find it of benefit.

Peter Etherington
Tel: 01664 668164


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Peter Etherington
HR Christmas Concerns
From Christmas Party Faux Pas to Secret Santa
While the lead up to Christmas is supposed to be a period of joy and goodwill, we all know that it can sometimes be anything but. There is the stress of trying to plan family gatherings with half an ear open for doom-laden announcements from Boris Johnson about COVID rules. The pressure of buying gifts for people who already have all they need (how about a Christmas mask and jumper combo?) It can be even more stressful for those who deal with HR.

Christmas Parties

The office Christmas party may not be happening this year – some employers have decided not to go ahead and to either put it off to the New Year or to try to arrange something by video conferencing. The HR worry about Christmas parties is that they are seen as an extension of work, in employment law terms. So if Jim from stock control has one too many and makes unwanted advances towards Maisie in sales, that could well be classified as sexual harassment in the workplace. So as an employer, what can you do?

It may sound a bit “Bah humbug” to lay down rules ahead of any Christmas party, but it may be a sensible move. This can be done in a gentle manner, and may work best in combination with the invitation.  For example: “Whilst we hope that everyone can let their hair down and enjoy a relaxing, informal evening with colleagues, please do bear in mind that you are still required to maintain good standards of behaviour so that everyone has a positive experience.”

If you are supplying alcohol, then it may be sensible to also lay on overnight accommodation or transport home.

Bad Weather

We already had a touch of winter weather last week, and there is good chance that there will be more to follow over the next couple of months. If staff are able to work from home, then it is not such an issue if they are unable to get to work, but what do you do for those who can’t work from home?

The legal position is that you do not have to pay someone if they are unable to attend work. But you may decide to allow them to take some holiday instead, or make up the time, or you may decide to exercise discretion and allow them some paid time off. You don’t really want to be in a situation where staff are feeling they have to get to work no matter what, if that could put them at risk.

However, if you have to close the workplace due to bad weather, so that you are effectively preventing staff attending work, then you do need to pay them as normal unless you have a temporary lay-off clause in the contract of employment.

Secret Santa

Secret Santa and other forms of gift giving in the workplace need some thought. If some of your staff struggle financially, then the burden of buying one more gift at a time when they are struggling to buy gifts for their kids as well as paying the ever-increasing fuel bills, may be a step too far. So if you are thinking of introducing such a scheme, consider consulting your staff first. It may be that you can fund Secret Santa, so that everyone receives a small gift without being out of pocket.

The other factor to consider with anonymous gift giving is the potential for malice from someone who is selected to provide a gift to someone they don’t like. This can open the door for passive-aggressive point scoring! If you have a team that isn’t gelling very well, then Secret Santa may not be ideal, and you may be better off having a more lucky dip approach.

Gifts and Hospitality

On the subject of gift giving, Christmas is the time of year when it is not unusual for clients and suppliers to give each other gifts. Many of you will have policies covering the giving and receiving of gifts and hospitality, in order to comply with the Bribery Act. It may be timely, therefore, to review the policy and to let staff know what is expected of them in that regard.

Additional Holiday

Many employers will close for business between Christmas and New Year. Often this will be covered in the contract of employment, with staff required to use their holiday entitlement to cover it. Whilst it is a bit late in the year to be checking that they have enough holiday to cover this time, it is still worth doing so now to ensure you are not going to have any last minute glitches when you are wanting to hang up your antlers for the year!

If you decide to grant any extra holiday to staff – for instance, if you decide to close early on Christmas Eve – then make it clear that this is a discretionary gift to thank them for their input in 2021 (in order to avoid any suggestion that this is a new contractual entitlement). Also, consider your part-timers. Whilst it is not discriminatory to give this time off to your full-timers but for a part-timer to miss out because they don’t work on Friday’s, it may still leave a bit of a sour taste. So perhaps consider letting them go a bit early on their last day before Christmas, or else perhaps just acknowledge they did not benefit from the closure as it wasn’t their working day, and give them an extra box of Heroes.

and finally…

If you have any HR horror stories related to Christmas, why not contact us and let us know. The best one may be featured in our New Year newsletter (suitably redacted, of course)!

BreatheHR – HR Software for Small Businesses
Christmas Offer
We are partners for breatheHR and are pleased to let you know that we are able to offer you up to two months’ free trial if you would like to give it a try. Also, if you start a trial in December and sign up before the end of February we can offer you a 50% discount for the first three months.

Please contact us if you would like a demo of the system.

National Minimum and Living Wage
From 1st April 2022, the minimum wage bands are increasing:

  • to £9.50 per hour (from £8.91) for workers aged 23 and over (+ 6.6%)
  • to £9.18 per hour (from £8.36) for workers aged 21 to 22 (+ 9.8%)
  • to £6.83 per hour (from £6.56) for workers aged 18 to 20 (+ 4.1%)
  • to £4.81 per hour (from £4.62) for workers aged 16 and 17 (+ 4.1%)
  • to £4.81 per hour (from £4.30) for apprentices under 19 and those over 19 in their first year* (+ 11.9%)

*N.B. Apprentices over 19 and who have completed at least one year are entitled to the appropriate rate for their age.