Battle Clause: Santa vs. the Establishment


Santa Claus.

Some of us dress like him.  Many of us have even sat on his lap.  Almost all of us have seen him—and in the coming month, he’ll be everywhere during this time of year.

He’s BIG.  He also evokes a range of emotions in our diverse culture.

Some people fondly recall memories of family holiday celebrations with the big man while others are focused on the religious meaning of the holiday season.  For some, Santa Claus evokes the feeling of exclusion and is a symbol that offends.  While no one is trying to exclude anyone intentionally, there may be employees in your company that do not relate to Santa Claus or other symbols of the holidays. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers with 15 or more employees to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of their employees.  This includes (1) reasonably accommodating work-religion conflicts, such as Sunday off, Saturday off, head wear, and grooming, and (2) allowing employees to opt out of an employer’s religious ceremony.

This parallels two important elements of the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which prohibits the government from (1) impeding the free exercise of religion, and (2) respecting the establishment of a religion.

 

CONCEPT

GOVERNMENT

WORKPLACE

Free Exercise

Allow personal choice in religion

Allow personal choice in religion

Establishment

Do not create a church

Do not create a church

 

In the workplace, the “establishment” clause simply means that mandatory company functions should not be religious.  Conversely, religious functions should not be mandatory.

 

Can requiring employee participation in holiday celebrations violate Title VII?  Does Santa Claus violate the “establishment” clause? 

As with most employment situations, there are ways to work within the law to cultivate the company culture you are trying to build.  Remember, there are many ways to celebrate this holiday season, and every business owner needs to become more aware of these considerations and the religious diversity of their company employees. Even employers with good intentions may fall into sticky situations and should proceed carefully when implementing holiday office policies. As an employer, you are required to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s religious beliefs only when it doesn’t create an undue hardship for your company.

For example: Employers should not require employees to participate in holiday decorating of work areas or keep decorations in their immediate workspace if they are telling you that Christmas decorations do not align with their religious beliefs. You may however, continue your traditional holiday practices, as long as you reasonably accommodate their request by excusing those employees who do object.

Call Cardinal Services if you have questions about this important workplace situation.

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