Christmas considerations for multi-cultural workforces

Although Christmas brings a great deal of fun and festive cheer, it can also bring about a number of potential employment law issues for businesses. Just as the UK has a multi-cultural society, the majority of our workplaces are also made up of employees from many different cultures, backgrounds and religions. Here we look at some of the things to consider over the Christmas period.

Shutting the office down

If you work in an office environment, it is often customary to shut down over the Christmas period, with some employers taking the opportunity to have a break of up to 2 weeks. Whilst there are a number of Bank Holidays over the period, it is likely that staff will have to utilise some of their annual holiday allowance over the shutdown, which might not be considered fair to those that don’t celebrate Christmas. However, employers need not avoid an extended shut down period but they do have to ensure sufficient notice is given, ideally referred to in the contracts of employment.

Consideration of other religious occasions

Similarly employers may provide a number of ‘bonus’ days off over Christmas that are additional to annual leave. This may leave non-Christians feeling disadvantaged, since they may wish ideally to take holidays in order to participate in their own religious festivals at other times of the year. Employers should just be mindful of trying to maintain a level playing field for all staff and allow where possible, staff of different religions the opportunity to take their holidays during their own key religious festivals, subject to them applying for leave in the normal way.

Equality at the Christmas party

When planning the Christmas party, it may be important to take into consideration the different beliefs of employees. For example, you may need to consider the menu options having dishes to cater for everyone (i.e. halal, vegetarian). An event that is heavily focused around alcohol should always be managed carefully, but with regard to religion and faith, it may not be customary to drink in all religions (and of course a whole range of other employment issues can arise as a result of over-indulgence at the Christmas party).

For further help and advice on how to manage a multi-cultural workforce, or for advice relating to Christmas specifically, please contact either: Pam McColl or Amanda Isherwood or call us on 0161 312 1864

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