Bosses can — but shouldn’t — be Scrooges over the Christmas holidays
It’s the middle of December. Christmas is in the air. As a Christian holiday, of course.
But also as a secular event. An unrelenting, ubiquitous commercial and cultural juggernaut, that – in many ways – transcends religious belief. The sights and sounds of the Christmas season permeate radio, television, shopping malls and other public spaces.
But what of the workplace? To what extent should Santa Claus, egg nog and other seasonal trappings form part of the employee experience?
The short answer is that, strictly speaking, employers’ obligations vis-à-vis Christmas are limited to those prescribed by employment standards legislation (i.e. Christmas Day is a statutory holiday) and human rights legislation (i.e. to state the obvious, Christians must be permitted to observe Christmas day as a religious holiday).
Beyond that, however, employers are under no obligation to:
— Permit employees to festoon their personal workspaces with glitz and garland;
— Suspend the normal office dress code and indulge in festive garb that would be more suited to an elves’ workshop than a place of business; nor
— Cast rules of attendance and punctuality to the wind, so as to abide extended lunches for shopping, early departures for parties, and unscheduled days off.
That said, none of this should be taken as a recommendation that employers take a Scrooge-like approach to the Christmas season. Just the opposite, in fact.
The recommendations that I offer to employers at this time of year are, more than anything else, rooted in the concepts of reasonableness and common sense. Here are some pointers:
— A holiday party is an excellent way for an employer to show appreciation toward hard-working staff, and build morale; but – now more than ever – it is incumbent on employers ensure such events are well-organized and safe. For example: alcohol consumption should be monitored and controlled; arrangements should be made for employees’ safe return home at the conclusion of the festivities; and the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe should be (indeed, must be) left in the past.
— Tasteful seasonal decor can lift the spirits and help motivate personnel. Christmas trees, wreaths, poinsettias and similar adornment should not be considered verboten; however, employers should be mindful of context. Decoration should be consistent with the overall level of formality (or informality) of the particular workplace, and should not rise to the level of sensory assault.
— In the same vein, Christmas should not be in your face at the workplace. Virtually all employers operate in a multi-cultural and multi-faith environment, and must therefore be mindful that overt Christian symbolism can sometimes cause upset or offense to members of other faiths. For that reason, it is generally safer for employers to manifest the Christmas spirit by way of the season’s more secular symbols, rather than with explicit Christian imagery. Furthermore, if an employee raises a religious-based concern or objection to Christmas symbolism in the workplace, the employer is obligated to address that swiftly and diligently.
Normal workplace policies remain in place, and should be appropriately enforced. For example:
— If an employer’s policy is that personal photos, trinkets and decorations are not permitted at employee workstations, then employees ought not to set up table-top Christmas trees and the like. On the other hand, it would almost certainly be unreasonable (and retrograde employee relations) for the employer to demand the removal of a Christmas-themed coffee mug from an employee’s desk.
— If the employer’s dress-code requires business attire, an employee who shows up for work dressed in a Santa Claus suit should quite properly be sent home to change. On the other hand, it would be silly for an employer to similarly object to a tiny lapel-pin shaped as a Christmas tree.
— Overindulgence at a Christmas party the night before is no excuse for an employee’s late and dishevelled appearance the next morning, and the employer need not give that individual a free-pass vis-à-vis his/her violation of the company’s attendance policy. On the other hand, allowing reasonable exceptions to that same policy – for example, by permitting an employee flexibility in adjusting his or her schedule to attend a son’s or daughter’s school Christmas concert – can pay dividends in employee loyalty.
Overall, to employers, I say this: be of good cheer, and do not look to Ebeneezer Scrooge as a role model for the Christmas season.
And to employees, I say the following: be sensible and responsible, and do not test the limits of your employer’s festive spirit.
And to all: a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and best wishes for a season of goodwill and revelry.