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Office Christmas Festivities and Religion

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Posted by Steph Marsh on 16th December 2021

As we’ve seen, most businesses enjoy the celebrations that the Christmas period brings, whether that be in the form of parties, Christmas jumper days or secret Santa. But what consideration should be taken to those who are either not religious or are not Christian?

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:

Location
Is the location suitable for all employees? For example, Muslim employees may feel uncomfortable attending a party in a pub due to their beliefs concerning alcohol.

Food
Will all dietary requirements be catered for? Don’t forget to establish if any employees are Halal, Vegan, Vegetarian etc.

Drink
Not all employees drink alcohol so employers should ensure that there are plenty of soft drink options available.

Date
Certain days will have implications for some employees, for example a party on a Friday night may not be suitable for Orthodox Jewish employees who observe the Sabbath.

Theme
Generally most employers tend to avoid the connotation that the party is to celebrate the Christian religion, but consideration should be taken so as not to cause any offence.

Are Christmas jumper days still allowed?

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.

How to handle different religions

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.

If you assistance or would like any advice on discrimination issues, then please get in touch with a member of the team on 01752 663295.