Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas Holiday???
By Leanne Standryk, Partner
As we approach the holiday season, many of our employer clients prepare to celebrate achievements of the past year and share festive thanks to employees, clients, suppliers etc. for contributing to the success of their business. You plan celebrations which often include decorations around the office space, special foods, a Christmas tree, angels and music about the birth of Christ.
As a responsible employer you have taken care to ensure that your workplace is accompanied by the policies that foster a working environment where people of every religion, culture and nationality feel welcome and free to embrace and celebrate their festivals and traditions. As so you consider… are these celebrations offensive? Should we be more neutral in our wishes for a happy holiday? Should you cancel Christmas? Take the office Christmas tree down? How do we strike a balance of celebration and respect? We know by now that every person has the right to equal treatment in employment and must not suffer discrimination based certain enumerated grounds including religion and creed. Our human rights legislation does not require employers to provide a workplace that is free from all religions and creeds other than the employee’s choice. It requires an employer to accommodate employee religious beliefs unless to do so would create undue hardship. This may include changing rules, standards, policies, workplace culture and the physical environment.
In this sense accommodation of religion or creed does not mean cancelling Christmas, Eid Mubarak, Hanukah, or any other religious celebration because one employee does not celebrate in this particular way.
Subject to these human rights considerations, the manner in which you express your holiday cheer is up to you using good judgement and the notion of inclusivity. To this end we recommend the following:
- Participation in festive celebrations should be voluntary.
- Participation in gift exchanges should be voluntary.
- Employees should be “invited” not “required” to decorate their workstations.
- Festival celebrations and year end parties should be sensitive to fasting or restrictions tied to religious observances.
- If an employee honestly and sincerely raises a concern of religious discrimination due to holiday celebrations including décor, days off, music or greetings, consider maintaining common areas of your workplace neutral in your holiday décor and limit festive décor to employee personal workstations. Meet with the employee on collaborate as to what a reasonable (not perfect) accommodation may look like.
- If you are providing time off to participate in employer workplace celebrations those who due to religious observance cannot participate should be given the same time free from work to avoid a claim of discrimination.
- Non-participation should not be viewed or treated adversely.
At this time of year we take the opportunity to thank our clients for the confidence in our services and contribution to our success and wish everyone a happy holiday.
For Advice on any labour or employment matter, please reach out to the Leanne Standryk or Vita Gauley at Lancaster Brooks & Welch – 905-641-1551