Last Christmas – Christmas parties were often canceled: Time for a labor law update in 2021.

 Ten sometimes surprising rules for Christmas parties – virtual or real.

Last Christmas – Christmas parties were often canceled: Time for a labor law update in 2021.

The corona pandemic is not yet completely over and nobody really knows in which form Christmas parties will be able to take place at the end of the year. However, after a long period of social distancing and, at best, virtual company parties, many employees and managers are yearning for something more personal. That is why it is worth taking a look at the labor law aspects again this year.

Challenges are also presented when planning the Christmas party in 2021. How much proximity is advisable despite COVID-19 and in view of the local hospitalization rates and immunization quotas? Should the teams remain separated or can we approach pre-corona participant numbers? Although labor law does not provide any guidelines regarding the size and scope, proximity and distance, it does provide clear answers to ten frequently asked questions:

  1. Is the company obliged to hold a Christmas party?
    In principle, employers are free to decide every year whether or not they wish to hold a company Christmas party. However, there are exceptions: such as a corresponding company agreement or company practice. For example, if parties held with the same scope in the last three years give employees the impression that such a party will also be held in the coming years. Accordingly, company practice cannot realistically be used as an argument for this year given the experience from the previous year.
  2. Is participation mandatory?
    Not every colleague is enthusiastic about attending the company Christmas party. Whether virtual or real: there is no obligation to attend. Ultimately, the event usually takes place outside of working hours. If the event is held during working hours, employees do not have to attend but have to either work or take time off – unless the employer explicitly allows the employees to go home. But those employees who prefer to avoid the parties should consider the message that they are sending to their colleagues and superiors.
  3. Does the Christmas party count as working time?
    If the party starts after the end of work, employees cannot record this as overtime. In contrast, if the company celebrates during working hours, employees only have to make up for these working hours if the employer has explicitly ordered this. In this case, the works council must be involved.
  4. Are employees who did not attend the party entitled to the gifts that were presented at the party?
    According to the Cologne Labor Court, the answer is no. Even if the employee was on sick leave as a consequence of a work accident. Specifically, an employer gifted every employee at the Christmas party with an iPad mini worth €429 as an incentive to boost the attractiveness of its company celebrations (ArbG Cologne, decision from October 9, 2013 – 3 Ca 1819/13).
    It is important to remember that the tax authorities regard Christmas presents as taxable income and social insurance contributions may also be incurred. Gifts can also become company practice. If the boss hands out gifts every year, this may give rise to a future entitlement.
  5. Can a boss bar individual employees from attending?
    According to the labor law governing equal treatment, employers must treat all employees equally and may not disadvantage anyone. Therefore, all of the employees have to be invited, unless there is an objective reason to prohibit attendance (ArbG Cologne, decision from June 22, 2017 – 8 Ca 5233/16). For example, if a clinician is on call during the Christmas party or the production has to remain up and running. More precise regulations governing the participants can be set forth in a company agreement.
  6. Does misconduct have consequences?
    Even if the celebration takes place outside of working hours, employees should continue to remember their good manners. Those who insult their colleagues or superiors, make sexual advances or become violent, risk receiving a warning or, in the worst case, immediate termination (e.g. LAG Hamm, decision from June 30, 2004 – 18 Sa 836/04).
  7. Must those who celebrate late also start work on time?
    Work still starts at the usual time on the day after the party. Any exceptions must be arranged with the employer in advance.
  8. May photos from the company Christmas party be posted on social media?
    Pictures of colleagues or superiors may not be published without their express consent – neither on social networks nor anywhere else. Otherwise, the affected parties are entitled to demand cessation as well as deletion. In addition, there is a risk of claims for damages and consequences under labor law.
  9. Does the works council have a say?
    The works council does not have any co-determination rights regarding whether or how a Christmas parties takes place. However, the company parties can address the associated issues via a voluntarily company agreement. Employers distribute gifts at their sole discretion. Nevertheless, the employee representatives have a say in the “how” in accordance with Section 87 (1) No. 10 Works Constitution Act.
  10. Is an accident at the Christmas party insured?
    The statutory accident insurance coverage also exists for accidents such as a torn ligament while dancing at the Christmas party as this is a company event. However, as soon as the boss officially ends the party or the majority of the colleagues leave, the insurance coverage also ends.

Fortunately, the chances of merry company Christmas parties are more promising this year than last year. Problem-free company parties are not just a question of corona regulations. A look at labor law is always worthwhile.