Religious Holidays and the Workplace Environment

Although summer is just ending, we all know how quickly the last part of the year seems to go. Before we know it, the winter holiday season will be here, and along with it a host of challenges for workplaces. Between Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa and other holidays, most of the world’s religious and cultural traditions will take time to celebrate. But what happens when these celebrations come to work, and how can businesses avoid the mess of problems that might accompany an accusation of religious discrimination?

New York state law expressly forbids discrimination on the basis of religion in any area of employment, and requires employers to reasonably accommodate religious beliefs in a way that doesn’t create more than a minor change to the work environment. This should generally not be a problem on an individual basis throughout the year. But when it comes to office-wide celebrations, such as end-of-year holiday parties, employers should take extra precautions to avoid even inadvertently discriminating on the basis of religion. This is particularly true in the case of companies whose ownership and corporate culture are especially faith-based.

Making any type of religious expression mandatory is a clear form of religious discrimination, as is offering any sort of reward or favorable treatment on the basis of religion. The best policy is to strive to be as inclusive as possible in all aspects of the celebration. Make sure that a variety of traditions and belief systems are represented on planning committees and in actual events such as parties. Emphasize inclusion and unity, and take employees’ — and customers’ — concerns seriously. Make every effort to include everyone.

Even with state law in place, religious discrimination occurs at an alarming rate: the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 3,721 complaints of such discrimination in fiscal year 2013. No one should feel uncomfortable at work because of discriminatory policies and behaviors.

New York City Religious Discrimination Attorney

If you believe your workplace has a problem with religious discrimination, you should first address the issue with your employer. If the problem persists, contact the EEOC and a knowledgeable New York employment discrimination lawyer with the Derek T. Smith Law Group.

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