I am pleased to share my blog post “A Holiday Tale: Guidance from a Jewish Guy Who Wears a Chai” written for SHRM.
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.
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!