Taking care in the silly season

Nick Stanley
By Nick Stanley

For most of us, the lead-up to Christmas is a hectic time. Everyone needs their last-minute job done, their orders filled, their repairs sorted. And just as all this happens, you’ve got more commitments outside work, too.

Thankfully, there are a couple of bright spots: the Xmas work party and summer holidays. Time for some fun, toast another year, and take some well-earned time off.

These occasions also have their obligations for employers and employees. If they aren’t planned and done properly, it can cause unnecessary hassles.

Here are some tips:

Annual close-downs

By law, all NZ employers are allowed to close all, or part of, their operation each year. The business can decide when this happens, but most employers do it over Xmas-New Years.

The entire workplace doesn’t have to shut, for example, manufacturing or maintenance might continue while the office closes, or the office may continue for customer service but operations close down.

Employers must give employees at least 14 days’ notice of the close-down, but we recommend doing this as soon as you confirm dates. Fourteen days doesn’t give people a lot of time to plan, and more time means you can deal with any questions or issues in advance.

We also recommend letting staff know of the close-down dates in writing, to help avoid confusion.

Using annual leave

During the shutdown, employees must take annual leave, even if they don’t have enough to cover the break.

If an employee doesn’t have enough leave, time off during the close-down is unpaid or an employer can agree to let them take annual leave in advance.

As with any annual leave payment, employees can request to have the leave paid out in full, before the holiday. But it is much more common - and easier administratively - to pay leave in the normal pay-cycle.

Employees with less than 1 year of service aren’t entitled to annual leave but can be paid 8% of their earnings up to the close-down.

Public holidays

Public holidays are paid if the day would “otherwise be a working day”. In the close-down period, this still applies (i.e. as if the close-down was not in effect).

Christmas parties

Xmas parties are a valuable opportunity to celebrate success and show employees how much the company appreciates their efforts. But they are also notorious for some people taking celebrations a bit too far.

To mitigate potential legal and health and safety risks, it pays to think about what you want to focus on. There are plenty of fun activities that don’t revolve around alcohol. Take everyone go-cart racing or white water rafting, or have a child-friendly picnic at the local park with music and games.

If you do want to stick to the more traditional Christmas party, make sure you have plenty of food and structure the event so people eat. Don’t go overboard with the quantities of liquor and offer a good array of tasty, non-alcoholic options (remember it’s against the law to serve alcohol to drunk people). Have a clear finish time and organise transport so people get home safely.

Creating a Christmas party policy can be a good way to ensure things stay respectful by setting clear boundaries and detailing the company's expectations.

The policy doesn’t have to be long and dry. It’s Xmas, after all, so have some fun with the wording. People will be more likely to read and remember the contents. Get your team together to issue the policy. You’ll be able to speak to people personally and enlist their support to ensure the event goes well.

Then enjoy the party and the holiday! ’Tis the season to be jolly after all.