Black Friday, the day when shops offer their goods at discount prices, is on November 25th this year. The event originated in America; it occurs the day after Thanksgiving and was traditionally the day Americans would start their Christmas shopping. The phenomenon has spread to the UK and recent years have seen scenes of chaos due to large price reductions in shops. Small business employers may think that they will escape the chaos but this will not always be the case.
Dedicated sales shoppers are likely to have already booked time off but, with a number of days still to go, employers may find themselves facing short notice requests for holiday. Where holiday requests have been turned down or holiday caps have been reached, there is the potential for employees to falsely claim sickness to get their day off. In the lead up to the event, employers should remind staff of the rules regarding false absence and how this will be treated. A simple memo circulated among the workforce reminding staff of the notification requirements for sickness absence and that abuse of this will be treated as a disciplinary issue may be sufficient to remove the potential for this happening altogether.
If an employee does call in sick on Black Friday, the obvious suspicion is that they have taken the day off to go shopping. This may not always be the case and employers should be wary of automatically jumping to this conclusion. As standard practice, employers should hold a return to work meeting with every absent employee to ascertain the reason for their absence and if there are any steps the employer can take to keep them at work. This is even more important after a Black Friday absence as requiring the employee to explain their reasons face to face can deter them from claiming false sickness. Small business employers may be unable to take formal action unless they have evidence that the employee was abusing the absence system.
An impact on productivity
As Black Friday sales are generally welcomed by online retailers, employers may also find themselves facing issues regarding personal use of work internet and equipment such as computers and mobiles; this will be compounded by retailers using the event to hold protracted online sales. For example, Amazon are offering 11 days of Black Friday sales this year. Most employees will think that a quick five-minute browse on the internet will not impact their work but each period of distraction adds up and can have a negative effect on productivity and the ability to meet business needs.
Small business employers should ensure they have set internet, company property and email policies in place. The temptation to use work time for personal matters is an ongoing issue year-round so these policies are important to implement and action. Employees should know in advance of any internet use what they can and cannot access and what they are allowed to use work equipment for. If any monitoring takes place, including on company property which can be used during personal time, this should also be communicated to employees through these policies. This inclusion eases the way for any information found during monitoring to be used in any later action against the employee. Employers need to ensure employees have read these policies and have signed a document evidencing this. This can then be used as evidence the employee knows the rules when employers are using these policies to take action against improper use of the internet.
Kate Palmer is head of advisory at Peninsula.