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Celebrating Christmas in a diverse workplace

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How do you celebrate Christmas at work when your employees are from diverse backgrounds?

Well, the key to making this time of year enjoyable for everyone – and to avoiding any discrimination issues – is to make sure that your celebrations are inclusive.

Some of your staff may practise faiths which don’t observe Christmas, while others might be atheist or agnostic. That said, these employees might still enjoy the festive season’s more secular aspects and be keen to join in.

Most people like to see Christmas trees, fairy lights and attractive decorations brightening up the workplace, and it’s perfectly OK to do traditional Christmassy things at work, like handing round mince pies and chocolates.

It’s also fine to encourage staff to exchange gifts – but think carefully when deciding what to put in the office bran tub or when asking colleagues to choose Secret Santa presents for each other.

Gifts containing alcohol are a complete no-no as not everyone drinks, perhaps for religious, health or other personal reasons – and don’t include items of a religious nature, such as angel decorations.

Also, steer clear of anything overtly cheeky or even a bit risqué. What one person finds hilarious might be regarded as inappropriate or downright offensive by someone else.

Working to a budget of up to £10 per person, you should be able to pick up tasteful yet inexpensive, gifts such as engraved pencils, mouse mats, notebooks, lunch boxes and re-usable water bottles.

Another way of spreading some seasonal cheer – and raising a few pounds for charity – is letting staff wear their Christmas jumpers to work if they make a small donation. This is harmless fun and a good way of contributing to your business’s favourite cause.

You might also want to organise a workplace Christmas lunch or other event to mark the festive season and bring people together.  Sporty events such as go-karting or ten pin bowling have wide appeal, or your staff might prefer taking part in an activity such as chocolate-making. Office parties can carry potential claims risks, so alternative ways of socialising, which don’t involve copious amounts of alcohol, are a much safer bet.

However as the Christmas party season approaches it is also worth considering the points below:

  • Employment laws apply even when a party takes place somewhere other than in the workplace.
  • Employers may therefore be liable for incidents of harassment that take place at work-related social events and could face tribunal claims.
  • Drink-fuelled behaviour is the root cause of many tribunal claims each year, and without risking being seen as party-poopers, employers should consider reminding staff of what constitutes unacceptable behaviour at staff social events – and the consequences.

On the subject of “joining in”, don’t insist that everyone on your team attends festive events or exchanges gifts with colleagues.  Not everyone loves Christmas – in fact some people loathe it – but they shouldn’t be denounced as “Scrooge” if they don’t want to participate. It’s entirely their choice.

What matters is that everybody is given the option to join in and that no-one, for whatever reason, is left out. Never assume, for example, that people who don’t identify as Christian won’t want to be part of your celebrations.

Bear in mind too, that it’s not only Christmas that is celebrated in mid-December. Chanukah, the eight-day, wintertime “festival of lights,” takes place from December 22 to December 30 and is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays.

You can help promote diversity in your workplace by actively recognising the different festivals celebrated by employees with different faiths. Encourage staff to learn about each other’s cultures and beliefs by sharing food treats.

Whatever you and your team are doing this Christmas, have a great time. And, as always, if you have any HR concerns or issues – seasonal or not – we’re here to help.  Contact us on 01455 444222

Angela Clay

A qualified employment law solicitor and our managing director, Angela has unparalleled legal expertise and decades of experience and knowledge to draw from. She’s a passionate speaker and writer that loves to keep employers updated with upcoming changes to legislation, and is a regular guest speaker on BBC Leicester Radio.