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‘Tis the season to avoid discrimination

An inclusive, accepting workplace is a festive workplace

By Jeffrey R. Smith

It seems every year, as we get into December and the holiday season, there’s a hubbub about the “war on Christmas” and complaints that the politically correct set is going overboard with perceived slights against their attempts to wish people a “Merry Christmas” and put up Christmas trees. Instead, they claim to be forced to say “Season’s Greetings” and put up “holiday trees.”

These claims may be real or much ado about nothing — I know I’ve seen a lot of “Christmas” signs around and many people happily uttering the words “Merry Christmas,” and I live in probably the most diverse city in the world.

But it’s a good reminder that there are different cultures that should be allowed to celebrate in their own way without worrying about others. And it’s a good idea for employers to be aware of different cultures in the workplace and be careful to ensure there isn’t discrimination, especially when celebrating what’s important to them.

Many employers have parties or other types of celebrations during the holiday season, and these are largely oriented towards Christmas. This makes sense, as we are a country founded by Christians and the majority celebrate it. But as more cultures and beliefs share our society, more people don’t necessarily celebrate Christmas and sometimes they celebrate other holidays around the same time.

But there’s no reason everyone can’t celebrate side-by-side and respect each other’s types of celebration. And there’s also no reason to make it difficult for those who may not want to celebrate the same way.

Religious beliefs, creed and place of origin are all grounds for discrimination that are protected under human rights legislation everywhere in Canada, and these aspects of employees may become more obvious during the holiday season.

If there are people of different religious beliefs in a workplace — which is very likely — the employer shouldn’t feel it should temper any plans for Christmas parties out of a fear of offending non-Christians in the office.

However, if any non-Christian employees choose not to take part, the employer should make sure they don’t suffer a disadvantage because of it — such as having to work to cover those who are celebrating or having a hard time from employees taking part.

While it may seem common sense, employees and management should be professional and respectful in the workplace, even when celebrating and having a good time. However, I’ve seen countless human rights cases where employers have had to shell out a lot of money in damages for discrimination because of the behaviour of  management or other employees with people acting completely uncivilized and trying to humiliate co-workers solely because of their religious beliefs or where they come from.

That is not a good thing — and often costly for employers — to happen in the workplace at any time, let alone a time of year when people are supposed to feel festive and generous.

A good workplace is one that accepts any and all types of employees and makes them feel like a productive and equal part of the team. The holiday season can accentuate the differences between employees of different beliefs and creeds, but it’s all the more important to ensure everyone continues to feel a part of the team — for the good of productivity, the workplace culture and the bottom line.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Jeffrey R. Smith

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective.
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