Legal News

Three tips for a successful holiday season

The holiday season can be a joyous time to come together and celebrate with colleagues. However, employers must also be aware of the issues that arise during this time of year. Below, we look at three common issues that employers may face in the workplace.

Holiday Issue #1 – Office Parties

As December draws closer, many employers are preparing to host their annual office parties. Employers may be held liable for conduct of attendees at a workplace party even if an incident occurs after a guest has left the party. The employer is exacerbating the risk of potential injury when hosting an event where alcohol is provided. Employers should take measures to mitigate the increased risk that comes with being a social host. These preventative measures include:

  • Hold parties at non-work locations
  • Use professionally staffed bars instead of ‘open bars’, with servers that are trained to monitor signs of intoxication
  • Regulate alcohol consumption – if alcohol will be provided, limit the number of drink tickets for each guest and provide food and alcohol-free beverage options
  • Provide taxi vouchers or reimburse cab rides, and ensure employees are informed about the available transportation options
  • Lead by example with responsible and sober management
  • Remind employees of their personal responsibility not to drink and drive, and take any necessary steps to ensure that intoxicated employees are not permitted to drive home
  • Remind employees that policies, such as those relating to harassment, continue to apply at holiday parties

Holiday Issue #2 – Inadvertent Discrimination

In our multi-cultural society, employers should remember that all employees may not engage in the same holiday celebrations.  Employers should take care not to unintentionally discriminate against employees because their religious beliefs don’t align with the majority in the workplace. In particular, employers should consider the following:

  • Redesign office events to be more inclusive, such as changing the name, decorations or activities that will take place
  • Grant alternative time-off requests for religious observance
  • Take objections raised by employees seriously
  • Remember the traditional analysis for accommodation in the human rights context

Holiday Issue #3 – Office Shut-Downs

Most employers are aware that they must provide certain statutory holidays to employees under the Employment Standards Act. In British Columbia, December 25th (Christmas Day) and January 1st (New Years’ Day) are statutory holidays. December 26th (Boxing Day) is a statutory holiday for federally regulated employers but not for provincially regulated employers. However, employers may wonder if they are able to shut down the office for a period of time during the holidays.

Employers may want to close down during the holiday season because business is slow and many employees will be taking time off regardless. It may be a convenient opportunity to save in operating costs. Employers are permitted to close their offices for the holidays and can require employees to take vacation at a certain time at the employer’s discretion or may provide unpaid time off, but should keep in mind the following considerations:

  • Determine whether the employment agreements include an office closure clause – employees may be more receptive to a closure if they were informed up front
  • Religious accommodations may be necessary for alternative holiday celebrations
  • Bad morale may result if employees are forced to use vacation time they did not plan to use at that time
  • If practicable, consider allowing employees to work from home if they do not wish to take vacation during the holiday closure