Magazine article HRMagazine

A Holiday Tale

Magazine article HRMagazine

A Holiday Tale

Article excerpt

You are a beleaguered HR professional charged with making the holidays lively without inviting lawsuits. On the day of your company's holiday party, you walk into the lobby of your building and see the elegant Christmas pine that you helped decorate. As you behold it in its twinkling glory, a co-worker says, "That tree is inappropriate in the workplace."

Wrong. It is beautiful; Christmas can and should be acknowledged-so says the Jewish guy who wears a chai pendant given to him by his grandmother. (Chai is a Hebrew letter that means "life.") There's no reason to remove symbols of Christmas from holiday decorations. But recognize other holidays, too. A Hanukkah menorah and a Kwanzaa harvest basket would be nice additions.

Your encounter in the lobby, however, is just the beginning of a day of seasonal challenges.

Grumble, Grumble

In the elevator, you hear employees complaining about the holiday party. "I don't want to go, but I feel like I have to," one says. You think you can feel the early signs of a migraine coming on. You would love to say, "Please, if you don't want to go, by all means, don't. Your present to me would be your absence." It's OK to think it, but please don't say it (unless you are retiring at the end of the year).

In fact, unless the holiday party is scheduled during working hours, be careful not to require or even strongly encourage employees to attend-or else you may ring in the New Year with a wage and hour claim. Yes, Virginia, there is a chance an employee may claim the party is work.

Another person in the elevator is upset that the gathering is not called a Christmas party, while still another says that, as an atheist, she objects that there is any party at all. Oy vey, you think.

Usually, it's best to call your shindig a holiday party or seasonal celebration to maximize inclusion, but it is more than OK to mention the various holidays celebrated, including Christmas. In fact, please do. Inclusion does not mean eliminating anything that is not universally shared. It is the opposite!

As the elevator door opens to your floor, you see a large menorah with lit candles. Your receptionist thought it would add meaning to the season.

First, address the fire hazard by blowing out the candles. Second, make it clear that employees cannot put up whatever they want, wherever they want. (Sincerest holiday greetings to the National Labor Relations Board: Management rights is not an oxymoron.)

Two people are waiting for you in your office. One is dismayed that a co-worker gave him a thong as a holiday gift. The other is unhappy that there are no decorations recognizing the Buddhist holiday of Bodhi Day.

To prevent the first headache, let workers know that gifts must be appropriate. Tell them that excludes anything sexual or otherwise inconsistent with your equal employment opportunity (EEO) policy. Consider also how you will deal with gifts of alcohol. What if you prohibit its possession on your premises?

Now, here comes my keen legal prowess: Send an e-mail to employees that reads, "If you receive alcohol as a gift, do not open or consume it at work, and please take it home the day you get it."

As for decorations, invite people to make suggestions before you put them up. You can maximize spiritual inclusion if you involve employees in the process.

Party Time!

It's no wonder that, by the time you arrive at the holiday party, you run right to the bar. Be careful. …

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