When Holiday Traditions and Religions Don't Mix

Planning an office holiday party when not all of your employees celebrate holidays? Avoid religious discrimination with these tips.



Scenario: you just finished delivering invitations to the annual office Christmas party when a new employee tells you it is against their religion to celebrate holidays. In a state of panic, you consider your options. 

“Scrapping the party altogether would be a major disappointment to all the other employees,” you think aloud. “But would having the party be a potential lawsuit for religious discrimination?” 

After contacting your certified HR (Human Resource) expert to explore options, you decide the party can go on – but only after you implement the following tips. 

Make the Office Holiday Party Voluntary 

While you should never force employees to attend any office party, even a voluntary party held during work hours may give the impression that attendance is mandatory. Instead, move the party to after-hours or offer employees the option of leaving early with pay.  

If the party must be held during work hours and the employee has too much work to leave early, consider offering floating time off as an alternative option. Employees who cannot or choose not to celebrate at the office holiday party should not be penalized. 

Allow Party Activities to be Elective  

Some employees may want to be part of the festivities but might not want to participate in all the games, gift exchanges, or other activities. Allow them the flexibility to pick and choose which activities they do or do not want to participate in while at the party.  

Be sure to remind all staff that taunting, teasing, or pressuring coworkers to participate in an activity is unacceptable.  

Provide Culturally Accepted Foods  

Whether at your office party or at some other company-sponsored event, be sure to offer foods that meet common religious-based dietary constraints. For example, a Christmas ham would not be suitable for Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu employees.  

To proactively demonstrate your desire to include everyone, ask your employees about religious food preferences and/or dietary needs when planning food for the party. 

Ensure Your Office Party Does Not Coincide with Other Holidays 

When you have a diverse staff, it’s important to be welcoming and inclusive of everyone. Avoid planning your company party to be held on a day that coincides with holidays, even if they are holidays you do not personally celebrate.  

For example, try planning around Hanukkah, the Day of Enlightenment, Christmas Day, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, or any other religious holiday in December. If you are unsure which days should be avoided, poll your staff to get their feedback. 

Consider Your Holiday Party’s Intent 

It’s possible that your office party may be called a “Christmas party” by tradition only, when in fact there is no actual celebration of Christmas. While it happens to occur during the holiday season, your party’s purpose may be for team building or to express appreciation for employees.  

You do not need to adjust the culture by requiring everyone to call it by a different name, but new employees with religious sensitivities may need some clarification. Describe the list of planned activities, explain that the employee can choose to participate in as little or as much as they would like, and allow them to decide. 

Talk to Employees about Accommodations 

Above all, if an employee is uncomfortable with attending your company party due to religious reasons, it is critical that you talk with them about possible accommodations. Ask for their suggestions and explain that religious accommodations will be made in a nondiscriminatory fashion. 

For more information, please contact your certified HR expert. Not a current Stratus HR client? Request a free consultation and our team will contact you shortly. 


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