Could ‘treating’ employees at Christmas actually constitute religious discrimination?
On the face of it, yes it could!
Whilst there is currently no case law whereby a non-Christian employee has issued a claim against its employer for religious discrimination due to a Christmas party being held, technically they could do so. However, it would be difficult to imagine a Tribunal deciding that the actual party itself is discriminatory (as they’re not so much about celebrating the Christian festival, but rather a chance for everyone to get together and socialise), but there are plenty of circumstances which could constitute discrimination.
The following aspects might need to be taken into account when organising a Christmas party:
Absolutely! Whilst not all employees celebrate Christmas, Christmas jumper days can still go ahead! Employers should take care to ensure that they do not force anyone to take part, but rather, make it optional. Again, just because an employee is not Christian, does not mean that they won’t want to dress up too; so be careful to avoid any preconceived biases which could be discriminatory.
Providing an employer is sensitive towards other religions, appreciates that not everyone will want to take part in the festivities and treats employees fairly and equally, there is little chance of them being seen to be discriminatory.
It goes without saying that you cannot treat Christian employees differently to those of other religions. That means you shouldn’t offer them additional time off around Christmas if you do not allow those with different religious beliefs the equivalent.