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Employer Law Report

‘Tis the Season for Holiday Workplace Issues. Day 2 – Being Inclusive Without Being A Grinch

Posted in EEO, Traps for the Unwary, Workforce Strategies

Religion is also a hot-button workplace issue in December because so many different religious groups celebrate different holidays in December. For example: Christians commemorate the birth of Jesus at Christmas; Buddhists celebrate Buddha’s Enlightenment with Bodhi Day; Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights; African-Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice; Seinfeld enthusiasts celebrate Festivus, and there are many others.

Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination and/or harassment on the basis of religion. This means that an employer cannot treat persons of different religions differently or appear to favor one religion over another. As such, having a party that is focused on a single religious theme, i.e., a "Christmas" party, excludes employees who do not practice Christian beliefs. As such, employees should be mindful of varying cultural differences among their employees and determine a neutral way to celebrate this special time of year. Here are some tips:

  • Keep Decor Wintery, Not Religious-Centered: In the office, its goodbye to the Christmas tree, the nativity scene and the menorah. Unless you allow all types of religious symbols during the holidays, its best to deck the halls with neutral themes, like wintery snowmen, snowflakes and colorful lights.
  • Give Peas a chance! Some religious observances restrict diets or require fasting during certain periods. Do what you can to avoid holiday parties during times of fasting and offer food options that are sensitive to various religions and nationalities that are likely to be represented at your party.
  • Music Makes the World Go Round: Music sets the tone of the party, and if done wrong your party can have two left feet. Music can be tough, especially with a workforce of varying ages, cultural backgrounds and/or religious beliefs. One suggestion is to avoid overly religious Christmas carols.
  • Foster an Atmosphere of Inclusion not Cliques: Take steps to keep employees from hanging out with their workplace friends. Encourage employees to mix and mingle by assigning seats randomly and/or have everyone engage in an activity, like a gift exchange. Most importantly, make sure everyone feels welcome and included. Holiday parties should promote office morale and bolster workplace cohesion, not remind employees of high school.