You walk into your building and you see that holiday decorations are everywhere. You pass by a beautiful pine Christmas tree eloquently decorated. A co-worker responds: "The tree is inappropriate to the workplace."
Segal: WRONG. It is beautiful and Christmas can and should be acknowledged (says the Jewish guy who wears his grandmother’s Chai). Don’t remove Christmas from the holiday season. But recognize other holidays, too. A Hanukkah menorah and a Kwanzaa harvest basket would be nice additions.
You head to the elevator and you hear employees complaining about the holiday party. What’s the carping? I don’t want to go, but feel pressure from my boss to attend.
Segal: Please, if you don’t want to go, by all means, we don’t want you either. Okay to think it, but please don’t say it. In fact, unless the holiday party is during working hours, be careful not to require or encourage employees to attend too strongly or you may ring in the New Year with a wage and hour claim.
In the elevator, one of the employees mentions that he is upset that is it is called a Holiday party rather than a Christmas party. Another employee, who does not observe any holidays because of her religious beliefs, is upset that there is a party. You reach into your pocket and take two Tylenol.
Segal: Usually, best to call it a holiday party or seasonal celebration to maximize inclusion, but it is more than okay to mention the various holidays celebrated. In fact, please do.
So, you open the elevator door and you see a very large, lit Menorah and a crèche scene. Your receptionist thought they would add meaning to the season.
Segal: First, let’s deal with the fire and blow out the candles (but don’t make a wish.) Second, you may want to make it clear that employees cannot put up whatever they want, wherever they want. Sincerest holiday greeting to the NLRB: Management rights is not an oxymoron.
So, you go to your office and there are three people waiting for you. Who originated the open door philosophy anyway? Someone with unresolved anger toward an HR professional in his or her life?
One of the employees is appropriately upset that she was given, as a holiday gift, something from Victoria’s Secret. In what cave has the gift giver been living?
Segal: Remind employees that gifts should be appropriate. Consider also how you will deal with gifts of alcohol. What if you prohibit possession on your premises? Now, here comes my legal prowess. E-mail to employees: if you receive alcohol as a gift, do not open or consume at work; take it home the day of receipt. Note to file: copyright.
The other two employees are upset that you are spending all of your time with other employees who are upset all of the time. Not a seasonal issue. Just part of the everyday joy of HR, so time to move on.
You go to the holiday party and you run right to the bar. Please apologize to the employees you knocked over on the way. You pour yourself a tall glass of Vodka (because it does not smell) and you go to see your CEO (who, even with a very bad cold, smells the Vodka).
Segal: Control the amount of alcohol provided (and how much you drink). Do not allow self-service. Ensure you serve plenty of non-alcohol beverages and food, too (egg rolls a must). No alcohol to minors. Vouchers for cabs. Etc.
You finish talking with your CEO and you notice two employees are dancing very tightly. And when I say tightly, I mean it looks like a passionate embrace. Oh, wait, it is a passionate embrace.
Segal: Every year there is a marathon by plaintiffs’ lawyers: "Were you groped at your holiday party? Witness employees grinding on the dance floor? Call: 1-800-RETIRE." Remind employees that your EEO Policy applies to social events and respond proactively to inappropriate behavior.
You leave the party with a massive headache and think about moving to Denver, assuming planes can land safely among the “fog". You see that the holiday cards have arrived. But there is no message inside. Why are they blank? Because no one knows what to say. If you say Happy Holidays, are you declaring war on Christmas? If you say Merry Christmas are you disrespecting your Muslim colleagues?
Segal: I got this one covered, I think. Cards ordinarily should be general—Seasons Greetings or Happy Holidays. But if you know the faith of the recipient, it is more than okay to customize. I always wish my Christian friends Merry Christmas. And, I like it when people wish me Happy Hanukkah if they know I am Jewish. I am less happy if they do so because they think I look Jewish. By the way, I found Aaron Greenberg. Remember him?
You leave the building and call a cab because you would never drink and drive. In the cab, the driver asks you where you are going. Your response: "Anywhere, so long as it is far away!"
Segal: If you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, I wish you a peaceful and meaningful holiday that corresponds with your faith. If you celebrate another holiday, I apologize for not referencing it by name, but I wish you a peaceful and meaningful holiday, too. If you celebrate no holidays or a holiday at another time of year, I wish you well just the same.
With all the difficulties that can accompany the holidays in the workplace, it is a time to remember how lucky we are to be alive (“Chai” means life in Hebrew) and to love and to be loved. Yes, it truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Personal note: As long as my grandparents were here, I used to light the Hanukkah candles with them over the phone. By the way, in addition to my grandmother’s Chai, I wear my grandfather's ring. Even now, on the last night of Hanukkah, I still light the candles, spiritually, with my grandparents. I am not short on words but words cannot express my continuing love for them. I dedicate this blog to my grandparents, Millie and Louis Kurtin.
THIS BLOG SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE, PERTAINING TO SPECIFIC FACTUAL SITUATION OR ESTABLISHING AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.