Braving the bauble
Sure, ‘it’s the most wonderful time of the year’, but in 2023, the festive season now seems beset with danger, with plenty of employers concerned about the repercussions of celebrating Christmas in any way, shape or form.
So if you’re wondering whether you can brave the bauble, here’s the common-sense guide to decking the halls without ending up in tribunal.
Religious belief IS protected by the Equality Act 2010, but the Act does not state that traditional customs are protected by discrimination legislation.
And let’s be clear, the vast majority of “traditional customs” – tinsel, baubles, fairy lights and trees – are not inherently religious or a requirement of Christianity.
As a result, it’d be extremely difficult (and probably impossible) for someone to successfully claim religious discrimination due to “too much tinsel in the office”.
Insisting employees participate in Christmas festivities if they don’t want to, is a dangerous game which I wouldn’t advise you to play.
But equally, assuming someone DOESN’T want to join in because they are of a particular faith or religion is dangerous – this kind of prejudice could lead to a claim of associative discrimination.
A modern tradition in the workplace is Secret Santa, which is normally a bit of harmless fun and can help to bring your team closer together.
However, like all festive activities, it needs to be done with sensitivity and tact, or you could end up in hot water.
Back in 2008, a Muslim police officer received a Secret Santa gift of wine and bacon from a fellow colleague – as you can imagine, he was reported for racism.
Presenting lingerie and sex toys is also unacceptable and could lead to the affected employees pursuing a claim for harassment against the employer, which is something you must take very seriously.
Some companies may think nothing of dishing out chocolates, Christmas cards or bottles of alcohol to their employees, when in fact this could be seen as insensitive towards those who do not celebrate the holiday or drink alcohol.
We advise that you check beforehand which of your staff wish to join in with the celebrations, so that you can plan suitable and inclusive activities.
The most dangerous of all – the Christmas party.
The most obvious danger with the Christmas party is drunken staff behaving inappropriately. You need to make it clear that although it is a party, it is still a work event and work rules apply.
When organising your Christmas party, be sure to take into account the fact that there may be people attending who do not drink due to their religion, pregnancy or other personal reasons.
Ensure that there is a selection of soft drinks or mocktails for these employees, and provisions made for people with allergies and other dietary requirements.
Overall, there is no reason why a company cannot join in with the festivities of Christmas.
And there’s no denying that good festive events, run properly, can help create a positive atmosphere for the upcoming New Year.
As long as staff are clearly notified that they have the choice to join in or opt out with festivities, and if you are able to keep all religious elements out of it you should not go wrong.
If you need any help, you know where we are, and that’s not under the mistletoe – I’d very much caution against incorporating that particular plant into your plans, for obvious reasons!