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Black Friday Shopping Frenzy Concerns Employers (But Not Our Clients!)

Last week someone said to me “Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?” Errm, no. I haven’t even started thinking about it, never mind buying anything. But it seems that lots of people have it well in hand, assisted by the Black Friday phenomenon.

The UK seems to be adopting more and more traditions (most of them commercial) from the USA and the one everyone has been talking about this weekend is Black Friday. The huge sale kick-starts the Thanksgiving holiday, meaning many people in the US have time off work. The sales continue over the weekend and into Cyber Monday. The result is chaotic with shoppers (quite literally) trampling on each other to bag a pre-Christmas bargain.

According to one HR advice line there were almost 8,000 calls over the weekend from businesses who had received a high level of holiday requests to take time off for BF shopping and were concerned that if they refused to grant the leave, internet shopping would create serious workplace problems. As an aside, curiously enough, our clients didn’t seem to have these problems; everything was calm with productivity at usual levels! Must be something to do with the robustness of our framework :-) !

My friend, Christmas shopping now behind her and what she calls the Great Wrap about to start, is part of a growing trend. Last year £810 million was spent on almost 405,000 online orders on Black Friday with a further £650 million being spent online on Cyber Monday. Black Friday does not coincide with a UK public holiday so here many workplaces saw a slip in productivity last year as employees browsed the internet during working time so not to miss out.

Regardless of the reason, tell employees what is and is not acceptable use of the internet during working hours. Remind them of the internet policy that you have in place. Many roles have a need to access the internet for normal business activity including research, business social media, and stock/supply ordering. During an employee’s working hours use of the internet should be limited to only business use.

You may allow employees to use the internet for non-employment related matters during their own time; that is, before or after work or during their break. Even if an employee accesses the internet in his own time he should not under any circumstances be accessing any material that is offensive or inappropriate, including pornography, or personal social media and chat rooms.

An internet policy should state that you have the right to monitor traffic passing through systems. Depending on your business you may perform random checks or you may only do so when you have a good reason, such as the belief that an employee is misusing the systems. Make it clear that any information found may be used as part of a discipline if necessary.

If an employee breaches the rules you put in place it may be reasonable to take him through the discipline process. If the breach is only minor, an informal conversation resulting in some guidance may be more appropriate. Dismissal for repeating the offence may be reasonable depending on the circumstances.

If an employee wants to go shopping or shop online on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, he can book holiday in the normal way. There is no right for time off to shop, even at Christmas! Incidentally, when it comes to online shopping you will need to consider if it is appropriate to allow an employee to have his parcels delivered to the work place. It may be acceptable on the odd occasion but when 30 parcels arrive for just one person it can be a different story. Consider the extra work this may create and the storage of goods that have been delivered.

As for holiday, employees must give notice that they are requesting holiday and certainly cannot take it without permission. The statutory notice period is to give twice the number of days that the employee wants to take, in other words if you want one day’s holiday you must give two days’ notice. In reality, that’s rarely enough notice to plan the work schedule so most employers require at least a week’s notice, though permission does not have to be given if the business cannot spare the employee on the date(s) requested. If the employee then disappears without permission, it’s unauthorised absence. And if they suddenly go “sick” (and some will) then you can investigate and reserve the right to explore matters through the formal disciplinary process. Make sure that employees know what to expect if they disappear without permission.

While there may be bargains to be had on the high street and online, employees still have a duty to comply with the employer’s requirements and Black Friday/Cyber Monday should not affect productivity and/or performance in the workplace.

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