The Trouble with Elves & Reindeers

#HRFridayFact: Elves & Reindeer have specific working patterns so make sure that their worker status is correctly stated on their contracts.

Like some of our clients, Santa Claus has a very erratic work schedule that is highly seasonal. Consequently, he needs to ensure that the terms and worker status for both Reindeer and Elves is properly applied to avoid ending up with an Employment Tribunal claim.

With just one evening’s work per year, the reindeer should really have zero-hours contracts as this would allow them to seek other work from other employers when Santa has nothing for them. The problem with this however is that there is no mutuality of contract, meaning the reindeer are not obliged to accept any work that is offered.

This could leave Santa in a pickle if the reindeer choose not to accept the one night’s work per year that he offers and instead decide to stick to their off season jobs of posing for photographs and being fattened up to provide dinner for hungry Icelandics.

Taking the reindeer on as self-employed workers gives rise to the same issues as the zero-hours contract option whereby they don’t have to accept the work. Santa’s only real choice is to offer his reindeer a very generous 364 days holiday per year.

As far as the elves are concerned, Santa most probably has a core team of elves making toys to meet anticipated demand. As Christmas approaches he will need to make an assessment of how many children have been naughty and nice and whether an increase in production is required. This may lead to Santa having to take on more elves to meet demand.

He could take on extra elves on temporary or fixed term contracts and could do this either directly or through an employment agency. Taking on (s)elf employed workers could also be an option. Santa may prefer the authority that employer status gives him but he should remember that employees have access to full benefits from day one such as sick pay.

Agency elves have access to certain benefits immediately, such as access to parking, the staff canteen or crèche facilities and will gain rights to full benefits after 12 weeks in the same role. If Santa opts to engage self-employed elves on a contracted basis, whilst there are no employee rights to worry about, he still needs to be conscious of Health & Safety, HMRC issues like IR35 and discrimination.

Employer status also means Santa can dictate when his employees take their holiday; so he is within his rights to order all employees to take their holidays together or within a certain time frame such as in the summer when there will be little impact on toy production.

With the turmoil over employee status in the Gig Economy jobs with companies such as Uber and Deliveroo, we recommend that Santa steers clear of any such arrangements.

Finally, Santa may wish to consider the effect that the National Living Wage will be when it comes into force on the 1st April next year. The increase to £7.83 for over 25 year olds may have quite an impact on his wage bill which may lead to an increase in toy prices and may also result in some redundancies being made.

We don’t usually get many enquiries regarding elves and reindeer but if you do have an issue please contact us on 01452 331331 or e-mail

Otherwise, have a very merry Christmas.

14 December 2017, 15:47