In some respects it seems that in more recent years we have as a society begun to revert back to some strong traditions at this time of year, but many managers are increasingly concerned that even the mentioning the ‘C’ word could get them into hot water! So where do we stand?
Firstly, although there is no case law as yet, it is unlikely that in isolation the act of holding a ‘Christmas’ party and calling it such would be viewed by a tribunal as being an act of discrimination.
Although the name suggests a celebration of a Christian festival, in many work places the reality is that most Christmas parties are focused on more cultural than religious practices. Perhaps your party is traditionally a reward for staff and recognition of their hard work.
Despite this, the issue remains, that Christmas somehow feels forbidden. I personally don’t think that such a blanket restriction is helpful on any level as such constraints often foster resentment and in many cases negatively impact on diversity rather than promoting it.
Consider the points beyond the law, reflect on what is just practice and how we can promote diversity, understanding and inclusion. Before making a decision on what to call your party, consider how you reacted to staff celebrating other traditionally non-Christian events earlier in the year. If using the term Christmas and holding the party in a pub will exclude some staff from coming this is very likely to detract from the real focus of getting staff together and celebrating what you have achieved as a team in the year gone. In this case perhaps simply a ‘party’ at a restaurant would be a better approach and if some staff choose to wear silly hats then so be it! But if you do change it make sure that staff understand the reason behind the change – it is not because we are forced to change but because we want to ensure that everyone has a great time.
The law does not say that we cannot celebrate Christmas and, in reality, neither do the millions of non-Christian people employed in the UK. What is quite rightly expected is that all staff, no matter their religion or belief are welcome and included in the customs, practices and activities that you acknowledge all year round as a truly diverse employer.