Legal quiz: Know your rights working in a Winter Wonderland

19 Dec 2019

As we approach the festive season Prospect’s legal team have developed a quiz for members to test your knowledge of rights at work (answers at the bottom – no cheating!)

London shopping street during Christmas with festive lights and blurred road traffic

Q1. A client has given me concert tickets as a Christmas gift, can I accept these?

  1. No, any gifts received in relation to your employment must be returned.
  2. Yes, if a client wants to give you a gift, that is their choice. It is not for the employer to intervene.
  3. Possibly, you should check your contract of employment or staff handbook to see if there is a company policy on accepting gifts.

Q2. Following last year’s Christmas party, a complaint was made that a senior manager had behaved inappropriately with a female colleague. What should the employer do to ensure this doesn’t happen again?

  1. There is no need to do anything. A Christmas party is a social occasion and so the employer has no responsibility for what happens.
  2. Send an email to staff in advance of the party about the standard of behaviour that is expected of them. Remind them the party is still a work setting so normal company rules on behaviour will apply.
  3. Cancel the Christmas party.

Q3. In wintry weather, it can get very cold in the office.  What is the recommended workplace minimum temperature?

  1. 20°C
  2. 16°C
  3. 12°C

Q4. If I can’t get to work because of travel disruption caused by snow, can my employer refuse to pay me?

  1. Yes, there is no legal right to be paid for travel delays or cancellations.
  2. No, if the reason for the absence is outside of your control, the employer must still pay you.
  3. They have to pay you half a day’s pay.

Q5. My employer wants me to work overtime in the run-up to Christmas?  Can I refuse?

  1. Yes, there is no requirement to work overtime, just your normal hours of work.
  2. No, an employer can require their employees to work at any time.
  3. Possibly, depending on what your contract of employment says.

Q6. Our office is closed between Christmas and New Year and we have been told that we have to take three days of our leave for this period. Is that right?

  1. Yes
  2. Yes but only if the employer gives notice.
  3. No, an employer cannot decide when an employee can take their leave.

Q7. Due to very bad winter weather I was unable to get to work because my son’s school has closed for the day.  Can I take the day off?

  1. Yes, an employer must allow a reasonable amount of time off to deal with emergencies for looking after dependents.
  2. No, it is too short notice.
  3. Only if your employer agrees.

Answers

A1. (c) – Christmas gifts

Many companies will have strict rules on this, and you should always be careful to comply. Firstly you should check your contract and staff handbook or rules to see if it says anything about accepting gifts or hospitality.  If in any doubt at all check with your manager, and follow up the conversation in writing, so you can be certain about what they have said. Usually small gifts will be fine, but be wary of accepting anything expensive. Sadly, we have seen Prospect members getting into trouble for innocently accepting gifts in the past. Also remember some gifts can be deemed to be income by HMRC and will be taxable.

A2. (b) – Office parties

Employees are entitled to the same respect at office parties as they would be during the rest of their time at work. Employers will usually be liable for discrimination or sexual harassment occurring at their parties or social events. As there were problems last year it would be sensible for the employers to remind staff that everyone should be able to enjoy themselves and that the organisation’s equality policy does not take a holiday.  If any complaints are made, they should take these seriously and carry out a full investigation if necessary.

If you want more information see Prospect Members’ Guide to harassment and bullying and Prospect’s Workplace Guide to dealing with sexual harassment.

A3. (b) – Workplace temperatures

Regulations require that ‘the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable’. There is no fixed legal minimum temperature but the Health and Safety Executive recommends that work rooms should normally be at least 16°C, or 13°C if much of the work is physical. If the temperature drops below this, ask your Prospect Safety Rep for advice.

A4. (a) – Travel disruption

There is no legal right for staff to be paid if they cannot get to work because of travel disruption. However, some employers may have contractual or collective agreements in place which cover these situations. You should check with your Prospect rep if there is a workplace agreement on this, or whether we could argue that by custom and practice the employer always pays.

Prospect advocates a more flexible approach to matters such as working hours and location when there is travel disruption.  We would encourage employers to think of whether there are any opportunities to work from home or offering alternative working patterns.

A5. (c) – Required overtime

An employer may be able to require employees to work overtime if their contract of employment includes a clause to that effect.  Many contracts simply state that you will be expected to work additional hours as required. If this clause is included in your contract and you refuse to work, then generally it may be reasonable for an employer to take disciplinary action against you.

See the Prospect Members’ Guide on individual contracts of employment for more details.

A6. (b) – Christmas closure

Yes, as long as the employer has given you notice, they can determine when you take your leave. Many organisations close over the festive period and say that employees must take the days as part of their leave, even if they would rather work. Under the working time regulations an employer must give at least two days’ notice for each full day of leave they are asking you to take.

See the Prospect Members’ Guide on working time and the law for more details.

A7. (a) – Time off for dependents

All employees are entitled to time off work to care for dependents in certain circumstances, which includes where there is an ‘unexpected disruption’ of the usual care arrangements. The employer must allow a reasonable amount of time off to deal with emergencies in looking after dependents, but unfortunately the law does not provide a right to be paid for the time off. Many employers would not deduct pay in your circumstances. You should check with your Prospect rep if there is a workplace agreement on this, or whether we could argue that by custom and practice the employer always pays.

See the Prospect Members’ Guide to parental and family leave for more details.

Note the answers in this article are brief responses to the general issues raised, they should not be taken as a definitive outline of the law. In all cases you should seek advice from your Prospect representative or contact us.