Shutting the office over Christmas may ‘offend’

Employers have been warned that shutting the office over Christmas or putting up religious decorations could be seen as discriminatory by non-Christian staff.

But organisations which must stay open should not worry about making Christians work during the religious holiday.

The remarks come from the Employers Forum on Belief (EFB) in a new publication, Christmas – A Guide for Employers.

The EFB, which includes representatives from the Government, Barclays Bank and West Midlands Police, says its booklet gives guidance on the “significance of Christmas, parties, working hours and holiday time”.

It claims non-Christians could resent that they have to take holiday to celebrate their own religious festivals when all staff are given time off over Christmas.

The EFB says it could be viewed as indirectly discriminating on the ground of religion or belief by non-Christian staff.

However the guide advises organisations such as emergency services, which cannot shut over Christmas, that they should not worry about making Christians work during the festive period.

It states that “tribunals have dismissed the notion that Christians have any privilege for time off for religious reasons”.

The guide goes on to advise organisations to put up “seasonal” decorations rather than religious ones to avoid offending minority faiths.

The EFB states in the booklet that “there is no need to panic about Christmas at work”.

The guide includes a series of spoof emails from an HR director to staff about a Christmas party, in which she struggles to avoid upsetting Jews, Muslims, alcoholics, homosexuals, the obese and vegetarians by catering for their varied needs.

It also shows a cartoon of a white man looking embarrassed as he asks a Sikh colleague: “What do you and your family have planned over the erm… non-religious-specific day off in winter?”

The five-page guide claims that Christmas was “built on many other traditions of mid winter celebration”. It states: “some argue that playing down its religious significance can avoid upsetting or alienating non-Christians.

“The challenge of appearing ‘politically correct’ has led some to the view that imposing a Christian festival on modern multi-cultural Britain is inappropriate.”

But it points out that even Britain’s equality watchdog believes denying Britain’s Christian heritage can be bad for “community relations”.

It goes on: “Many employers display Christmas decorations in the workplace and send Christmas cards, emails etc to employees, customers and others.

“There is no need to stop on grounds of religion or belief, although – unless your organisation has a strong Christian culture or ethos – it may be more sensitive to use seasonal rather than religious imagery”.

The guide advises employers to provide an alternative to the traditional Christmas lunch to accommodate people who have different diets.

In August the EFB advised employers to keep biscuits out of meetings and rearrange working hours during the Muslim festival of Ramadan.

It also said public bodies should be studying religious practices like Ramadan in preparation for the new Equality Bill.

An EFB spokesman said: “The more employers can do now to understand religious events and activities, the better they will be prepared”.

But many are concerned that Christianity will be left at the bottom of the pile after a number of Christians employed in the public sector have recently been either fired or disciplined for expressing their faith at work.

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