‘Tis the season for celebration, but for those who are in charge of planning the company holiday party, it can be stressful trying to put together an event that is fun and also recognizes the diversity of the modern workplace. It’s also a bit of a legal minefield. In Canada, provinces and territories have Human Rights Codes, giving each individual the right to equal treatment with respect to religion. In the United States, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination based on religion, national origin, race, color or sex.
Consider this warning from Beth P. Zoller of xpertHR.com:Debate continues each year around the issue of whether or not a Christmas party discriminates against non-Christians. But you don’t want to debate, you just want to plan a party! Fortunately, there are some ways to do that and still keep sane. TIPS FOR PULLING OFF AN INCLUSIVE HOLIDAY PARTY
The employer should aim to be inclusive. Even if celebrating a holiday, employers should avoid celebrations that are overtly religious. Otherwise, an employer may open itself up to a claim of religious discrimination.
Start with the right attitude.
Remember that the goal of the party is not to celebrate a specific holiday, but to provide a relaxed time for employees to socialize and share good will, and to show everyone in the company that they are a valued member of the organization. “The purpose of an office holiday party is typically to foster a sense of togetherness and give your employees a morale boost,” says Hillary Comeau of Genesis HR Solutions. “Thus, you should either make sure all religious symbolism is equally represented at your party, or alternatively, steer the focus of the holiday party away from religion altogether.”
Organize a planning committee that represents the full diversity of your company.
Keep the decorations festive, but nonspecific, with snowflakes instead of menorahs, and sleighs instead of Santas.
Pick the right date to avoid scheduling over any of the many holidays that might fall during December. Don’t think that’s an issue? Around this time of year Jews celebrate Hanukkah, African-Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, Hindus celebrate Pancha Ganapati, Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day and in some years, depending on the lunar calendar, Muslims might be celebrating Eid al-Fitr. Avoid scheduling conflicts by checking the dates with this handy Days of Significance calendar, provided by the University of British Columbia.
Celebrate the diversity in the room by having the CEO, manager or other top dog start the festivities with a welcome speech that is inclusive--something along the lines of “Look around you. The diversity of our workplace is one of our greatest strengths.”
Always make participation in the party voluntary. Some employees may prefer not to attend, for a variety of reasons. Managers should not quiz employees about their plans or ask for a reason if they choose not to attend.
Forgo “secret Santa” gift exchanges that could end up in an awkward moment, such as a Jewish employee receiving a Christmas tree ornament.
If you serve alcohol at the event, be sure to include plenty of festive nonalcoholic alternatives.
THREE FESTIVE AND INCLUSIVE THEMES:
Let It Snow The weather outside may be frightful, but it IS nondenominational. For this theme, think snowmen, snowflakes and sleighs. For example:
- Decorate the tables with squares of red cardinals or snowman cellophane wrap.
- Fill Nordic snowflake gift totes with something sweet for party attendees.
Out with the Old/In with the New This is the perfect time to celebrate your company’s accomplishments in the past year, and share hopes and plans for the New Year. Make your event shine with metallic accents. For example:
- Decorate the tables with a gold metal sleigh with snowflakes on top of squares of gold trees and stars cellophane wrap. Spread some white and gold blend sizzle around to add sparkle.
- Hand out cellophane cone bags filled with gold and white jelly beans or fill a snowman family take-out box with chocolates.
- Fill an oval black chalkboard basket with school supplies and deliver it to a teacher so she can hand out supplies to those of her students who might be running a little low this time of year.
- Spread the warmth by inviting everyone at the office to bring warm socks and mittens to the party. Toss them into a snowflake-spangled market tray, then deliver to the nearest homeless shelter.