Christmas is coming back to British workplaces. After years of avoiding Christmas parties, Christmas decorations, and saying “Merry Christmas” in the workplace for political correctness, Britain’s human rights boss says that now is the time to put aside fear of offending anyone and enjoy the holiday.
As Sky News Australia reports, David Isaac, chairman of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), says that British employers have been so zealous in obeying the law and not offending non-Christians that they’ve misinterpreted the laws to the point that Christmas is seen as forbidden. He wants it made clear that the law does not forbid celebrating Christmas in the workplace.
“Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right and shouldn’t be suppressed through fear of offending.”
Like the United States, Britain has a strong culturally Christian tradition and regards Christmas as a major retail, family, social, and even religious holiday. Also like the United States, Britain has a diverse minority population that includes people of multiple, non-Christian faiths. And in both countries, steps have been taken to protect the rights of religious minorities from discrimination in the workplace.
Britain, however, can be said to be a little more proactive about these matters when it comes to religion in the workplace, Isaac says. In the United States, telling a non-Christian coworker “Merry Christmas” will, at the very worst, get you a dirty look or even a visit to Human Resources (most likely it will get you a “Merry Christmas” in return, because come on).
However, in Britain, employers and employees feel like they have to walk on eggshells around their non-Christian colleagues to avoid giving offense.
“Lots of employers have now become really worried about doing anything discriminatory regarding their Muslim or Jewish staff.”
So fearful are employers of offending someone, says Isaac, that they’ve taken to “extreme and disproportionate behavior” which “could produce some sort of resentment about special treatment” from Christians.
One manager, for example, went so far as to put up a Christmas tree, but he made his employees call it a “festive tree” out of fear of offending anyone.
There’s no need for any of that, he says. He wants British workplaces to be allowed to enjoy and celebrate Christmas. He also says that, surprise surprise, most non-Christians are going to be OK with that.
“Most Muslims and Jews that I know adhere to their own religious beliefs of course, but to some extent acknowledge that Christmas happens and to some extent, with a small ‘c’, celebrate it. This is people’s lived experience and we need to reflect it.”
Of course, there are some reasonable steps that should be taken to avoid giving offense, he says. For example, you would do well to make sure there are some pork-free, gluten-free, meat-free, and so on dishes for your colleagues with dietary restrictions. That’s not political correctness, however; Isaac says that’s just being polite and considerate.
“You have to have a balanced debate about what is proportionate.”
Here in the U.S., Christmas controversy is less about what takes place in the workplace and more about what happens at the retail level. For example, popular coffee shop Starbucks seems to generate controversy every year with its “holiday” cups, which tend to favor winter scenes over such things as mangers or stars, and neglect to mention Christmas at all. Similarly, retailers who direct their employees to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” often draw the ire of shoppers who believe it’s all a part of a so-called “War on Christmas.”
Does your workplace ban Christmas or otherwise go overboard in making sure no one is offended?
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