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5 HR policies to have in place before the holiday season

December 6, 2021
By Supriya Sharma

Photo: theartofpics/Adobe Stock

Now that many businesses have recalled staff to work, in-person office holiday parties and team events are expected to be back as well.

It goes without saying that all in-person work get-togethers should be organized safely and with strict COVID-19 health and safety measures in place.

What is often overlooked but also useful to protect your business and staff, are some key HR policies that’ll help ensure everyone has a joyful and safe holiday season.

Here are five policies that can prevent the festive season (and the rest of the year) from turning into an employee management nightmare.


Drug and alcohol policy

You’d like your office holiday party to be an occasion for your team to catch-up and have fun after a 19-month ordeal of living through a pandemic. What you don’t want are drunken confrontations, airing of grievances and other sorts of inappropriate behaviour simply because some employees can’t hold their drinks.

It may be useful to remind your staff that while the party or festive events may be held off the work premises, the same rules of professional conduct apply. Any boorish behaviour would invite disciplinary action.

You also wouldn’t want your employees showing up (or driving) to work the next day still light-headed or hungover.

You can avoid such situations by having a clear workplace drug and alcohol policy. Your policy should communicate that showing up to work impaired or in possession of drugs or alcohol is unacceptable.

“This becomes especially critical if the nature of your work requires your staff use heavy machinery or handle hazardous material,” says Andrew Caldwell, HR advisory team lead at Peninsula Canada.

“Your policy should state the procedure that’ll be followed if an employee shows up to work impaired. It should also make it very clear that violating this policy would be considered serious misconduct. It may lead to disciplinary action, which could include termination of employment,” says Caldwell.

Office romance policy

While office relationships can develop at any time of the year, the opportunities for socializing during the festive season are especially favourable for romantic liaisons.

“Having a policy that provides guidelines on how office relationships are to be disclosed and conducted ensures professionalism in the workplace,” says Caldwell. “It reduces the scope for favouritism, discrimination, gossip, negativity, and helps keep the work environment healthy.”

Your policy should also specify whether relationships between senior employees and subordinates are permitted and what the next steps on disclosing such romances would be. For instance, would either of the parties be required to switch departments, or, if that’s not possible, resign.

Social media policy

Like the ones discussed above, this, too, is a policy that is useful all year round and especially during the season of office parties and celebratory events.

Drunken dancing, karaoke, rants, or brawls are unpleasant enough to witness once and quite a pain for employers or HR managers to sort the next day.

The last thing you want is for such videos or photos to go viral and be on the Internet for all eternity. It’s embarrassing not just for the employees involved but also for your business and brand.

A well-defined social media policy can minimize the risk of social media blunders, controversies, and the ensuing negative publicity.

Through your company’s social media policy, you can outline the code of conduct your employees are expected to follow when posting content on the Internet. It should advise your staff to refrain from referencing the company on their personal social media accounts (other than on a professional one such as LinkedIn).

“Make it clear what is meant by unacceptable content,” says Caldwell. “For instance, derogatory comments about co-workers or the company, using social media to harass or humiliate colleagues. Racist, sexist, or hateful comments. Any content that reveals confidential business information should also be a strict no-no,” he says.

The consequences of violating the policy should also be clear. Your employees should be aware that if posts on their personal social media accounts have a negative impact on the business, you’ll take disciplinary action, which may include termination of employment.

Vacation policy

Clashing vacations around the holidays can be another potential source for discord at work.

“Given that the holiday season was snuffed out by lockdowns last year, you may not wish to disappoint any employee by thwarting their much-anticipated vacation,” says Caldwell. “But you also don’t want to face a staff crunch during the busy holiday season. This is where having a vacation policy comes in handy.”

Your vacation policy should specify:

  • how much notice should employees provide for vacation requests
  • the procedure for making the request
  • possible scenarios in which a vacation request may be denied
  • how you’ll deal with clashing requests (on a ‘first-come first-served’ basis or by drawing lots).

On the face of it, a ‘first-come, first-served’ policy seems like the perfect solution. But its major drawback is that some employees may always reserve the big holidays before others, causing much resentment.

You could try alternative ways to fairly share prime vacation slots, such as by drawing lots or having a rotational system in place.

Mental health policy

Though the anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and loss caused by the pandemic has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health, it is a lot worse for those who are already struggling with mental health challenges.

The shortening daylight hours in winter also lead many to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) this time of the year.

As an employer, you can support your staff who are experiencing mental health challenges by having a comprehensive policy on mental health.

Doing so will also encourage your employees to open up about their mental health struggles and seek support. It will help normalize mental health conversations and reduce the stigma associated with this subject.

“Your policy should set down the procedure for disclosing mental health concerns or mental illness and the next steps once an employee does so and requests accommodation,” says Caldwell.

“You may also want to include information about your company’s Employee Assistance Programm, if you offer one, in your mental health policy,” he advises.

Supriya Sharma is an HR writer for Peninsula Canada in Toronto.

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