For employers Christmas can be less than jolly, in fact, the festive season can prove to be something of a minefield.

What if something untoward happens at the Christmas party? How should you deal with issues around different religions and cultures? What’s the best way to manage holiday requests and time off? What’s the etiquette when it comes to Christmas bonuses?

Here are some thoughts on how you can make sure your company’s Christmas celebrations go smoothly for everyone…

The Christmas party

I know it’s a cliché but work Christmas parties can get out of hand especially when spirits are high and the drink is flowing.

As an employer you should view the party as an extension of the workplace because if anything goes wrong or anyone gets injured, as the employer, you could be held vicariously liable.

It is wise to set party etiquette boundaries prior to your celebration to encourage people to enjoy themselves while reminding them of the standards of expected behaviour. You could also appoint a number of managers to stay sober and brief them in advance on how to deal with any drunken incidents.

Religion and culture

Christmas celebrations are generally more about socialising and improving staff morale than being religious occasions, so it is highly unlikely your festivities would be construed as religious discrimination against non-Christian employees.

However, it is good practice to be sensitive and respectful of all beliefs when planning events, whether that’s considering suitable dates, locations or catering.

Holiday requests and time off

Many employees want to take time off over Christmas and competing requests can cause a headache for employers, not to mention bad feeling among staff.

As an employer, you can restrict holidays at any time and stipulate when employees can take leave. The right to annual leave is the right to have time off but the employer determines when that is. There is no right to Christmas off and no right to have bank holidays off. It all depends on your business as to when leave is allowed.

In practice, taking a balanced and reasonable approach at Christmas usually works best and helps avoid staff morale being adversely affected.

The key is to be clear, consistent and scrupulously fair about how any requests for time off will be dealt with. You might create a Christmas rota or hold a ballot or ask teams to decide for themselves, giving them responsibility to arrange suitable cover in their departments.

Your objective is to ensure the needs of your business are met alongside the desire of employees to spend time with friends and family.

If employees know in advance what the system for requesting leave over Christmas is, they are more likely to understand any holiday requests that are declined, should that be necessary.

Christmas bonuses

Bonus payments may be discretionary or contractual. If a Christmas bonus is discretionary, an employer can exercise discretion when it comes to paying or withholding bonuses, as long as any criteria applied is not discriminatory.

If not everyone is to receive a bonus, fairness and clarity is essential to avoid conflicts and bad feeling.

More commonly employers offer a gift to their staff – perhaps a hamper or gift vouchers as a way of thanking them for their hard work throughout the year.

Be aware that while this may seem to be an entirely voluntary gesture, if you provide a bonus for several years, it could be argued that it has become a contractual right as a result of custom and practice.

If you do decide to withdraw your usual Christmas treat or gift, it would be wise to explain to staff why you have taken this decision.


It only remains for me to wish you and your staff a happy and peaceful Christmas period!

For advice on any employment-related matter contact Laura Franklin at Beswicks Legal on 01782 205000 or email laura.franklin@beswicks.com

Are you aware of Beswicks HR, our fixed fee HR advice service? Contact us for more information.