Question: "I’m not sure how to handle a new employee whose religious beliefs prevent her from acknowledging Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day, or birthdays. In our small business, the owners have always encouraged us to celebrate these holidays. This employee won’t attend our office Christmas party, but she accepts the Christmas card that contains her annual bonus. She doesn't recognize Easter or Valentine’s, but she eats the candy that the owners give us. She leaves the room when we celebrate birthdays, then later goes back to get a piece of cake. This behavior upsets her coworkers, who are starting to act very resentful towards her. They feel that she’s being hypocritical and that if she’s not going to celebrate, she should refuse the gifts and treats. The employee says that when she was hired, she told the owners she would not be able to participate in holiday celebrations. But now the rest of us feel really down, because we are having to change for her." — Nan
Answer: Let me get this straight. You’re angry because your co-worker follows her religious beliefs, accepts her year-end bonus, and eats leftover cake. Doesn't that sound a little petty to you?
Since you don't say otherwise, I assume that this woman does her job effectively, which is all that really counts. However, her presence has altered your familiar and comfortable office culture. Feeling uneasy about this change is understandable, but attacking your new colleague is childish and deplorable.
If you worked for a company with Jewish or Muslim owners, how would you react if they required participation in their holiday celebrations? And if you declined for religious reasons, how would you feel if your coworkers ostracized you?
In reality, the rest of you don’t have to “change for this one person." You can keep right on celebrating. The truth is that you want her to change by violating her religious beliefs. This is not only unfair to her, but also legally hazardous for your employers.
To develop a more accepting attitude, this immature office staff needs and guidance from a mature, professional adult. Perhaps that person could be you.
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