Did Christmas-Happy Boss Trigger ‘Religious Hostility’?

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in HR Soapbox

With the holiday season upon us, you're likely seeing varying degrees of holiday cheer in your workplace. Some people wear a new Christmas sweater every day ... some scowl through the entire month.

But can supervisors who like to share their excessive holiday glee be asking for legal trouble? It's possible if they offend workers from other faiths. That's why it's wise to not go overboard on the religous aspects of the season, and don't punish those who want to sit out the festivities.

Consider this recent cautionary tale ... Robert is Jewish and worked as an 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 Christmas blanket. 

Robert told her that he didn’t celebrate Christmas because he is Jewish. She asked if he missed participating in holiday celebrations. "Not really," he told her. That was the end of it ... until Robert was fired for poor performance soon after.

Robert saw a connection between his Santa snub and the firing. He sued, alleging religious discrimination and retaliation for complaining about holiday decorations.

Result? 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, ND OH, 2012)

Final tip: 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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