This year we have a cracker of a theme to lighthearted our end of year look at employment issues.
Invented by Tom Smith in 1847 the Christmas cracker is big business. A British speciality this simple object of paper and card still finds its way onto the Christmas dinner tables across the UK. It appears we go crackers for them. Estimates suggest that at Christmas 2012 we pulled around 300,000,000; yes 5 per person in the UK. In an increasingly sophisticated electronic based world that’s astonishing. What’s in a cracker? The snap of surprise, a ridiculous hat, a cheesy joke and a gift to treasure or discard all wrapped up in a twist of paper.
Crackers may appear at the office party but the elements of the cracker can appear at other times. Here are just a few ways they might get wrapped up with employment law.
Watching his roaring log file inspired Tom Smith to create his cracker. Two strips of paper sandwiching silver fulminate proved effective. The explosion made the cracker take off and distinguished it from “other party novelties”.
Small explosions at work could fall into the same category. Doing something differently might highlight new and better ways of working and get people out of a rut. However most people have a healthy fear of change, its part of our self-preservation and survival instinct. Our modern world has so much change that stability is becoming a luxury. It’s hard to handle life if at any and every moment it might explode in your face. We are lucky in the UK that such explosions are usually metaphorical, no landmines or air raids and even the risk of terror attacks, on a one to one basis, is low.
Christmas can be a time of tension for many. Spending time at home with family and with a sense that you should be happy, can be too much where there are already strains and people snap. Hence it’s the high season for deciding on divorce. This can translate to work. It is surprising how often I have been asked to advise about dismissals or redundancies because Christmas is coming. Sometimes employers want to get issues out of the way before the end of the year or don’t want employees to overcommit on Christmas spending when their jobs are at risk. However with people already under stress with preparations for Christmas and due to spend time away from work, it generally isn’t the best time to deal with such serious issues, unless it’s vital.
Snapping at work can be a symptom of problems away from work. So take that into consideration if employees (or the boss) are not at their best in the festive season. However work may be part or all of the cause. Employers are responsible for employees’ welfare. Are the pressures particularly high at Christmas? Too much to do in a shorter working month can make anyone snap? Be realistic about what needs to and can be done. Breaks can be particularly important at this time of year and people are likely to be more productive if they take them. While in some businesses the Christmas period may need to be covered, try to give people time off to properly relax. Try not to have work emails sent to staff during their break and discourage them from reading them; that applies to the boss too.
When it comes to work festivities release from stress is no excuse for misbehaviour. Without putting a dampener on the proceedings there are risks when people party and lose some of their inhibitions. Not everyone knows or agrees where the boundaries are in the workplace. Once the party is in full swing some may have greater problems recognising what is not acceptable. A huge recent survey has shown that different alcohol affects your mood and emotions differently. For a laid back relaxed party red wine or beer wins out but many, particularly men reported that drinking brings out aggressive tendencies so if you don’t want employees snapping at the Christmas social bear this in mind. Remember Employers may be liable for their employees’ actions, even if it’s outside work time, if it could still count as being in the course of employment.
Next time – the motto or joke but for now –
“What do you call Santa’s little helpers? – Subordinate clauses!”
Edit 47a1. This newsletter looks at new cases and employment related matters, which are likely to be of interest to many. However specialist advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking action based on comments in this newsletter, which is only intended as a brief note. For more information or if you have specific concerns phone me on 01233 714055 or email@example.com