The insurance office where I work put up a Christmas tree in the lobby. One of the employees who I supervise said that the tree bothers her because she does not celebrate religious holidays. She said she is offended every time she has to walk by the tree to get to our work area and that leaving it up is discrimination against her. I am stunned. I told our Human Resources Manager who said the employee is wrong and we do not have to do anything. What do you think I should tell the employee?
Try one of these:
- “Get a new job.”
- “See a therapist.”
- “Here’s your blindfold.”
- “Ho ho ho.”
— Evil Skippy
Merely setting up a decorated tree will not support a religion-based discrimination claim, especially in the private sector. This is because the company is not forcing a religious practice on anyone or failing to reasonably accommodate anyone’s individual religious beliefs. If you require employees to re-enact the Nativity as you decorate the tree — then you’re in trouble.
Your real problem is lousy support from your H.R. manager. Whether or not your employee was correct, she raised a harassment or discrimination concern. Telling you that the company does not have to do anything was terrible advice. You don’t have to take down the tree, but you do need to respond to your employee. Otherwise, she will assume her complaint was ignored.
Ideally, someone from Human Resources will join you to meet with the aggrieved employee and inform her that the tree is staying up. (If H.R. declines to back you up, have your boss or another manager sit in on the conversation). In addition to giving her the news, respectfully thank your employee for letting you know that she had concerns. (“Respectfully” means you can’t use any of Evil Skippy’s lines.) Ask her if there is anything else happening that is making her feel treated differently due to her religious beliefs or making her feel discriminated against. Look into any additional concerns. Take action if necessary to correct any problems.
It’s not rocket science.
So do it.