Weekly dilemma: Christmas parties to suit a diverse workforce

We’re trying to organise our Christmas party and it’s proving to be a nightmare. I have a number of Muslim employees in my workforce who are concerned that the normal format revolves around alcohol. I’m worried that if I don’t change it, we could face religious discrimination claims, but if I do, the rest of the workforce is bound to complain. What are our legal obligations?

When planning a Christmas party, it’s important to be aware of the beliefs of your staff, and you’ve already made a good start simply by listening to their concerns. It is now up to you to judge the format of the event so that everyone is able to enjoy themselves, which may involve consulting with them to reach the most appropriate solution.

You should always make sure nobody feels offended or left out when it comes to company celebrations. While Muslim staff may be uncomfortable at a party where people are expected to drink, they may also feel that non-attendance will be frowned upon, or even be a hindrance to the internal networking opportunities that such occasions can provide.

It may involve something as simple as providing a selection of soft drinks or ensuring the venue offers sufficient menu options to meet any specific dietary requirements. On the other hand, it may be necessary to use your imagination and try out something different altogether. It really comes down to using your knowledge of your workplace and your common sense.

It’s also important that you keep an eye on your other employees and how they react to the concerns of a certain group. They may feel disappointed if you break with tradition, which could lead to hostility – and this is a serious issue. Make sure you have robust disciplinary procedures in place to deal with any harassment, whether directed at one person or at a specific group of people.

Judith Watson,
Head of employment,
Cobbetts




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