As November draws to a close, all eyes turn to Christmas. However, retailers have been building up to the festive season all year and will be hoping their pre-Christmas planning will encourage shoppers to the high street and deliver a much-needed boost in footfall and sales.
The busy festive period will put pressure on all aspects of the business from supply chain to shop floor. Ultimately, the customer experience is key and staff are on the frontline for delivering a seamless service that allows customers an easy and enjoyable shopping trip. However the Christmas period can bring about a number of issues for employers and employees from a legal angle.
Time off over the festive period is a sensitive subject for retailers as employees may be needed to work on bank or public holidays depending on the need of the store. Apart from the statutory minimum holiday entitlement to 4 weeks holiday a year, there is no general right for an employee to have this time off. So whether an employee can take the bank holidays off over the Christmas period will depend on their contractual terms.
If employees do work over the Christmas period on a bank holiday, there is no general statutory right to enhanced rates of pay such as overtime, time and a half or double time. However, many retailers will offer enhanced rates of pay for working antisocial hours which may be for historical or traditional reasons and may also have been agreed with unions and set out in collective agreements. Employers must be careful to ensure that if the public or bank holiday worked forms part of the basic statutory holiday entitlement the employee is provided with alternative holiday during that holiday year.
Many retail companies often hire temporary staff to cope with the increased demand over the festive period. Since the introduction of the Agency Workers Regulations in October 2011 all employers have a duty to ensure that fixed-term temporary workers must be given the same salary, sickness, holiday, staff discounts and overtime rights as equivalent permanent employees. Temporary employees should be treated in the same way as permanent staff after they have worked for the company for 12 continuous weeks. This could include performance bonuses and invitations to Christmas parties.
If the employer wants to make any of these temporary staff permanent it must make sure that the selection methods are clear and transparent so that the company is not left open to any tribunal claims. It is also important to give proper notice to any temporary staff whose contract will not be continuing.
Staff absence rates tend to rise dramatically due to adverse weather conditions. If road and rail disruption, combined with school closures, make it impossible for staff to get to work then staff may find that their employer has reserved the right to treat that day as unpaid leave or holiday, and it would be well within its rights to do so.
Retailers need to ensure a clear adverse weather policy is in place, and is communicated and implemented effectively to manage staff absence in the winter months. Employees can sometimes be uncertain about their statutory rights, such as whether they are entitled to parental leave when childcare arrangements break down. It is therefore sensible to make it clear to employees where they stand.
In addition, it is important to remember that not everybody celebrates Christmas so retailers need to be mindful of employees of different religions and cultures. Appropriate care and sensitivity should be taken to ensure that employees do not feel uncomfortable, excluded or compelled to take part in certain types of celebrations.
Overall, the Christmas period is a stressful, frantic time for consumers, and any support to make Christmas shopping seamless will help to transform a year’s worth of preparation into ringing tills. Retail staff are on the frontline to deliver this consumer experience, so keeping staff on side is fundamental to encouraging Christmas sales this year. And ultimately, good customer service over such a busy period could develop customers into loyal brands advocates for life!