December 2019 - Winter Worries!

If you only read one thing…..Winter Worries

Winter brings its own problems in the workplace, some common issues are considered below -

Flu and colds:

Winter weather increases the likelihood of colds and flu and an increase in workers calling in sick. Check your contract sickness clauses or handbook to make sure that they clearly state-
• When employees have to contact work (usually on the first day of sickness).
• Who they should contact about sickness.
• When it is acceptable for employees to fill in a self-certificate explaining a short-term absence and when you will a GP’s Statement of Fitness for Work (this is usually if the illness lasts more than seven days).

Health & Safety:

The Health & Safety Executive’s website debunks some of the key “myths of Christmas”, including reassurance for our sector that throwing sweets from the stage in panto is not barred on health and safety grounds! Some other myths exploded include -
• Workers are banned from putting up Christmas decorations in the office.
• Indoor Christmas lights need a portable appliance test (PAT) every year.
• Traditional shopping centre Christmas trees scaled back or replaced by artificial alternatives.
• Carol singers are a health and safety risk.
• Children are banned from throwing snowballs.
• Health and safety prevents people putting coins in Christmas puddings.
• You cannot clear snow and ice from pavements yourself.

Parties:

It’s the party season, which should be all about fun, some recent cases though do make it wise for that fun to be taken in moderation and employees should (gently) be reminded of the following:-
• Work Christmas parties, wherever they are held, should be seen as an extension of the work environment and behaviour should reflect this.
• A party environment is not an excuse for harassment or bullying. Make it clear that the principles of your harassment, anti-bullying and equal opportunities policies still apply.
• If it is a working day, it will be business as usual the morning after the Christmas party night before. Employees should not be late or under the influence of alcohol, make it clear that such behaviour could be treated as misconduct, leading to disciplinary action.

Taking Holiday:

Lots of people may want to take some their holiday entitlement around Christmas and New Year, a reminder of the basic rules to remember when considering these:-
• When public holidays in the Christmas and New Year period fall on Saturdays and Sundays, alternative weekdays are declared public holidays.
• There is no statutory entitlement to paid leave for public holidays but it is usual, however, it should be stated clearly in the employment contract.
• Most workers - whether part-time or full-time - are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave. Additional annual leave may be agreed as part of a worker's contract.
• Employers can set the times that workers take their leave, such as a Christmas shutdown.
For more information see Acas' leaflet - Holidays and holiday pay.

Wellbeing in the Workplace:

Winter can exacerbate conditions such as stress and depression but it's rare for someone to voluntarily talk about a mental health problem. If you feel a colleague may be suffering from a mental health issue try and arrange a moment to catch them privately, and informally ask if they are feeling ok. Beyond such informal checks, make sure those with line management responsibilities know how to recognise signs of stress. Consider offering training to help them handle difficult conversations (ITC offers training in Managing Difficult Conversations) and raise awareness of health issues.

Winter Weather:

Employees are not automatically entitled to pay if they cannot get to work because of bad weather. Not many people will know this so if you do deduct pay make sure that you have a clear policy (one for the Staff Handbook probably) so that employees know what will happen if bad weather prevents them from getting in to work. It’s much better though to consider how to enable people to work even when they can’t get to the workplace, wherever possible. Spell out the options that are acceptable e.g:
• Could you temporarily alter working hours to minimise disruptions?
• Can employees work from home?
• Obviously these options won’t apply to performers or stage staff so if you are doing an Xmas show at base make sure all your company who are not home based stay within an easy journey from the venue. Consider where you put people up on tour and look at the most “weather-proof” travel methods.