17th December 2013

It’ll Be Lonely This Christmas

For many, this will be the last full working week before Christmas and festive cheer will be well underway.  Whether it is office parties, boozy lunches or post-work pints, there is the potential for a seasonal increase in the number of office hangovers – and the resultant number of non-attending employees.

Employers might find that it’ll be lonely (in the office) this Christmas!

Having said that, employers should not ignore the absent employees and should instead follow these three simple tips:

Assess the reason for non-attendance

Don’t jump to conclusions and assume that an employee is absent due to booze-flu.

Instead employers should assess the genuine reason for absence, particularly if there is a risk that the reason for absence is due to an employee’s potential disability.  This will require, as a minimum, asking the employee the reason for non-attendance on the return to work and, if appropriate, carrying out an investigation before deciding whether disciplinary action is appropriate.

Take appropriate action against absent employees

After investigation, if there are no good reasons for non-attendance, employers can take disciplinary action against the non-attending employees.  It would be preferable for employers to have some form of written policy regarding sickness and absence however, even if there is no formal policy, it is still possible to take formal action.

Additionally, if your office Christmas party is mid-week and people are expected to attend work the following day, a pro-active step would be to ensure that all staff know prior to the party that disciplinary action can be taken against them if they fail to turn up for work due to over-indulgence.

Adopt a consistent approach

In order to avoid claims of discrimination, employers should apply the company’s sickness and absence policy consistently.  If a history of festive tolerance has emerged over the years, it might prove more difficult to justify dismissing an employee on the basis of a one-off incident.  Having said that, the more pro-active the employer has been in warning employees about the potential for disciplinary action prior to an office party, the more likely a tribunal will find a subsequent dismissal to be fair.

Ultimately employers should take advice if they wish to take action against the non-attending employee.  Whilst it is the season of goodwill to all men, this does not mean that an employer requires to ignore any potential misconduct.

Tis the season to be careful …

Simon Allison 
Partner – Employment Law

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