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Go ahead and hold holiday celebrations–just be sure to hold the religion, too

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources

The winter holiday season is ap­­proaching and with it, perhaps some excessively cheerful holiday glee. That may offend some religious individuals from a wide variety of faiths.

But as long as employers don’t go overboard on the religious aspects of the season and don’t punish those who want to play Scrooge, a little merriment is fine.

Recent case: Robert is Jewish and worked as a probationary accountant for the Department of Defense. His supervisor never met a holiday she didn’t love and regularly asked em­­ployees to decorate their cubicles for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valen­­tine’s Day. At Christmas, she hung ornaments and candy canes in everyone’s cubicles and gave each of her employees a special holiday blanket.

Robert told her that he didn’t celebrate Christmas because he is Jewish. She asked if he missed participating in holiday celebrations and he told her “not really.” That was the end of it until Robert was fired for poor performance.

He sued, alleging religious discrimination and retaliation for complaining about holiday decorations.

The court threw out his case. It reasoned that there was no connection between Robert’s objections to decorations and his discharge for poor performance. Nor was the supervisor’s attempt to celebrate holidays (largely in a secular way) a religiously hostile act. (Weitman v. Panetta, No. 1:11CV-1229, ND OH, 2012)

Final note: Of course, requiring employees to participate in overtly religious activities like prayer would be different. But Santa is pretty neutral territory.

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