Australia: Long Christmas lunches and excessive online shopping: Tips for employers

Last Updated: 19 December 2018
Article by Nikita Barsby and Renae Harg

Some employees may see the Christmas period as an opportunity to focus more on festive season activities and less on work. Employees may spend excessive time away from the office, having lunch or Christmas shopping. Other employees may spend excessive time online, shopping for Christmas presents or planning Christmas activities, or excessive time decorating the office. These types of behaviours can be difficult for employers to manage, without appearing Grinch-like and while still ensuring staff morale remains positive over the busy Christmas period.

In managing any problematic festive season behaviour, employers should act swiftly. While a one-off occasion may be acceptable, repeated occasions should be addressed promptly as they come to the employer's attention. Swift action is more likely to prevent problematic festive season behaviour from continuing throughout December and into the new year, and will also more likely prevent other staff from engaging in similar behaviour.

For many employees, an informal discussion about the requirements of their role and the specific examples of their problematic behaviour, may stop the behaviour. This approach may be suitable for employees who have not previously had performance issues, i.e. their behaviour appears limited to this year's festive season or where the problematic behaviour is minor.

For employees who have a history of performance issues, have engaged in significant problematic or inappropriate behaviour, or continue their behaviour following an informal discussion, more formal action such as a written warning may be more appropriate. It is important that an employee be given the opportunity to respond to the reasons for any proposed disciplinary action, and the employer should make it clear to the employee where their behaviour needs to improve. It is important that any disciplinary action is undertaken in accordance with any relevant policies and procedures.

Some employers may choose to allow employees flexibility with their working hours over the Christmas period, for example to take longer lunch breaks on occasion or to start work later and finish later. Employers should communicate expectations around this clearly to employees. This may prevent problems from occurring in the first place, as each is aware of what is required. It is also important that any benefits are applied fairly and consistently amongst employees. This will assist in preventing confusion around acceptable workplace behaviour and working requirements, and from resentment developing amongst other employees.

Key takeaways to assist in managing employees' during the festive season include:

  • Prior to the festive season commencing, employers should review their policies and procedures to ensure all required policies and procedures are in place, and the content is up to date and appropriate. Policies may include performance management or disciplinary policies, IT policies and any other policies which relate to behaviour and expectations.
  • Expectations during the Christmas period should be clearly communicated to employees.
  • Any performance management or disciplinary action should be undertaken in accordance with the employer's policies.
  • Appropriate communication of messages to employees is vital, whether it be around expectations or poor behaviour. Christmas may be a busy time for businesses, with employees on leave, deadlines to meet and/or increased trade, and communications should be structured to encourage staff morale to remain high during this busy period.
  • Any disciplinary action taken should be fair and consistent. For example, if one employee has been permitted to have longer lunch breaks on occasion, it may not be appropriate to discipline another employee in similar circumstances who takes longer lunch breaks.

This marks day eight of MDC Legal's 12 days of Christmas blog series, which will address a variety of issues that may arise for both employees and employers throughout the festive season. MDC Legal are employment law specialists assisting employees, employers and industrial organisations – giving us a unique and comprehensive insight into employment law issues.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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