Monday, December 7, 2015

Can you legally deck the workplace halls?

star2012The holiday season is in full swing. Gifts are flying off the shelves, FedEx is delivering too many Amazon-logoed boxes to count, and lights, trees, and wreaths are everywhere.

What about the workplace? Can you legally decorate for the holidays at work? And, if you do, does the law require that you accommodate all religions in your holiday displays? The answer might surprise you.

According to the EEOC, because most holiday displays are secular, and not religious, an employer can decorate for one December holiday without decorating for all December holidays.

Each December, the president of XYZ corporation directs that several wreaths be placed around the office building and a tree be displayed in the lobby. Several employees complain that to accommodate their non-Christian religious beliefs, the employer should take down the wreaths and tree, or alternatively should add holiday decorations associated with other religions. Title VII does not require that XYZ corporation remove the wreaths and tree or add holiday decorations associated with other religions. The result under Title VII on these facts would be the same whether in a private or government workplace.

The legal result, however, is not always the correct result. The holiday season is a perfect example to demonstrate to your employees that you are an employer of inclusion. And it does not take much. Mix in a menorah and a Happy Hanukkah with your Christmas tree and Merry Christmas. That’s it. The EEOC and I don’t always see eye-to-eye. But, on this issue, we could not agree more: “As a best practice … all employers may find that sensitivity to the diversity of their workplace promotes positive employee relations.” And isn’t that what the holidays are all about?