Black Friday, the American name for the day after Thanksgiving when Americans traditionally started their Christmas shopping, has been a welcome phenomenon for UK workers seeking a bargain on their Christmas shopping. For employers, however, the weeklong build up and on-the-day flash deals can lead to a loss of focus and a negative impact on workplace productivity.
Many employers will see an increase in personal phone use as employees receive deals via email or need to access their shopping accounts throughout the day. Whilst it’s likely that a mobile phone use policy is in place, employees may think they can “get away with it” for one day a year. Even a few minutes spent looking at Black Friday deals on mobile phones will add up to a significant amount of time, and work, lost during the week. To minimise this, employers should remind their staff about the rules, sending out a memo or a copy of the mobile phone policy. Staff should be informed that anyone found using a mobile phone during working hours will be subject to disciplinary action as outlined in the policy.
As well as using personal phones, employees may utilise the company internet for browsing the sales, rather than completing their workload. Again, a communication of the company’s rules around internet use will help reduce the impact on productivity. Employers who wish to actively monitor internet use around this period, such as viewing which sites employees access via the company internet, should ensure employees are informed in advance that they may be monitored, how monitoring takes place and the extent of this. A monitoring policy will normally be sufficient. Failing to inform employees that their activities may be monitored creates a risk of breaching privacy rights.
Many sale-savvy employees will book time off work for the Black Friday savings period to allow them the best opportunity to grab a bargain. Those who haven’t planned ahead, may now be submitting short notice holiday requests. Employers do not have to approve holiday requests where insufficient notice has been given, however, they could choose to approve a request to avoid the issue of the employee being distracted at work. A productive workforce will need a minimum amount of staff so, where the cap on holiday has been reached, these requests should be turned down to ensure continuation of service.
Turning down requests, or a failure to submit a request early enough, could result in an employee ringing in ill on Black Friday. Whilst the obvious suspicion is that they are falsely claiming sickness to have a day at the sales, this may not always be the case and wrongly jumping to this conclusion could cause harm to the employment relationship. The employee will give the reason for their absence when they report this and a return to work meeting should be arranged on their first day back. This meeting provides the opportunity for the employer to ask the employee to explain the reason for their absence face to face and to check if there are any steps the employer can do to keep them in work. If the employee has lied over the phone, they will find it more difficult to lie face to face. Where there is evidence that the employee was falsely claiming sickness absence, such as a change in story or witness evidence, formal action can be taken.
Although reiterating and properly implementing the company’s rules will, in most cases, limit a loss of productivity, employers may choose to operate more flexibly on Black Friday to allow employees the opportunity to take advantage of the sales. For example, if an employee knows a certain deal will come online at a particular time, they could agree with their manager to take all or part of their normal breaks at this time. Not only will this ensure no working time is lost, it will also reduce the likelihood of employees falsely claiming sickness absence as they can be present at work and still grab a bargain.
Kate Palmer is HR Advice and Consultancy Director at global employment law consultancy, Peninsula.
Kate joined in 2009 from a worldwide facility services company where she was Senior HR Manager. Her exploits included providing HR & employment law support to over 30 UK hospitals and dealing with high profile NHS union cases—expertise she now brings to Peninsula clients.
Today, Kate is involved in all aspects of HR and employment law advice.