Last year, I told you the story about the "Jewish Guy Who Wears a Chai." I am retelling the story this year, but with some additional information about what happened not only during the holiday season, but also before and after the holiday season that led to our protagonist’s leaving HR, even if only temporarily. Here we go. Buckle your seat belts....lots of sarcasm ahead.
You walk into your building and you see that holiday decorations are everywhere. You pass by a beautiful pine Christmas tree eloquently decorated. A co-worker responds: “The tree is inappropriate to the workplace.”
Segal: WRONG. It is beautiful and Christmas can and should be acknowledged (says the Jewish guy who wears his grandmother’s Chai). Don’t remove Christmas from the holiday season. But recognize other holidays, too. A Hanukkah menorah and a Kwanzaa harvest basket would be nice additions.
Flash forward: The following year a menorah and harvest basket are added. But they are so small that an employee trips over the menorah that belongs in a maternity ward, falling into the Christmas tree which lands on the head of a self-declared atheist. Of course, religious discrimination and worker’s compensation claims follow. In the context of decorations, placement and relative size matter.
You head to the elevator and you hear employees complaining about the holiday party. What’s the carping? I don’t want to go, but feel pressure from my boss to attend.
Segal: Please, if you don’t want to go, by all means, we don’t want you either. Your present to me would be the absence of your presence. Okay to think it, but please don’t say it. In fact, unless the holiday party is during working hours, be careful not to require or encourage employees to attend too strongly or you may ring in the New Year with a wage and hour claim.
I cautioned you against saying “we don’t want you either.” But, if you are about to retire and don’t plan on working again.....please call me and tell me how it felt!
In the elevator, one of the employees mentions that he is upset that it is called a Holiday party rather than a Christmas party. Another employee, who does not observe any holidays because of her religious beliefs, is upset that there is a party. You reach into your pocket and take two Tylenol and make a mental note to call your doctor to make an appointment for something much stronger.
Segal: Usually, best to call it a holiday party or seasonal celebration to maximize inclusion, but it is more than okay to mention the various holidays celebrated. In fact, please do. Inclusion does not mean eliminating anything which is not universally shared. If that were the case, there would be as much inclusion in our workplaces as there is function in Congress. Sorry, just meant to think that.
So, you open the elevator door and you see a very large, lit Menorah and a crèche scene. Your receptionist thought they would add meaning to the season.
Segal: First, let’s deal with the fire and blow out the candles (but don’t make a wish, please.) Second, you may want to make it clear that employees cannot put up whatever they want, wherever they want. Sincerest holiday greeting to the NLRB: management rights is not an oxymoron.
And, while I am at it, why is the NLRB so obsessed with protecting employees who disparage a company by way of social media? Don’t its members understand the business reality that, if the employer’s brand is hurt, jobs may be lost? And, telling employees to be polite may violate their NLRA rights? Really? And...
Hold on. Almost there. Not yet. Ah, the sedative is working.
So, you go to your office and there are three people waiting for you. Who originated the open door philosophy anyway? Someone with unresolved anger toward an HR professional in his or her life?
One of the employees is appropriately upset that she was given, as a holiday gift, a negligee from Victoria’s Secret. So she would not be offended, he told her he gave the same gift to his wife. OY. In what cave has the knuckle dragger been living? And, he obviously didn’t get the message after you gave him a disciplinary warning for giving her a Valentine’s Day card with a romantic message!
Segal: Remind employees that gifts should be appropriate. Nothing sexual or suggestive. And, that includes thongs for women or men. Thong free, as free as the meadow.... [Sorry, Millennials: Ask a boomer, but don’t ask their age!]
Consider also how you will deal with gifts of alcohol. What if you prohibit possession on your premises? Now, here comes my legal prowess. E-mail to employees: if you receive alcohol as a gift, do not open or consume at work; take it home the day of receipt. Note to file: Copyright.
The other two employees are upset that you are spending all of your time with other employees who are upset all of the time. Not a seasonal issue. Just part of the everyday joy of HR.
My gift to you: If an employee is draining the life out of you, and the issue has nothing to do with any legal or HR issue, you can -- and should -- end the conversation directly but respectfully.
You go to the holiday party and you run right to the bar. You consider apologizing to the employees whom you knocked over on the way, but decide against it because you are afraid your apology will ring hollow since you knocked them over last year when running from the bar. You pour yourself a tall glass of Vodka (because it does not smell) and you go to see your CEO (who, even with a very bad cold, smells the Vodka).
Segal: Control the amount of alcohol provided (and how much you drink). Do not allow self-service. Ensure you serve plenty of non-alcohol beverages and food, too. And, when I say food, I mean egg rolls, of course! Inside joke. No alcohol to minors. Vouchers for cabs. Etc.
Consider charging for drinks and donating all of the money, plus more, to a charity. Minimize legal risk and help those who need it!
Please allow me to be serious for a moment: Do not forget this holiday season those who are less fortunate. We need to open up not only our wallets, but also our hearts.
Of course, that starts with people. But remember our four-legged friends in shelters waiting to be adopted.
Okay, back to our story.
You finish talking with your CEO and you notice two employees are dancing very tightly. And when I say tightly, I mean it looks like a passionate embrace. Oh, wait, it is a passionate embrace.
But the passionate embrace is no big deal compared to the employees who are in a line dance, twerking. Oh no, one of your leaders is the Chief Twerk. Note to file: Do not play any songs by Miley Cyrus next year.
Segal: Every year there is a marathon by plaintiffs’ lawyers: “Were you groped at your holiday party? Witness employees grinding on the dance floor? Call: 1-800-RETIRE.” Remind employees that your EEO Policy applies to social events and respond proactively to inappropriate behavior.
Flash Forward: The following year, to avoid any inappropriate dancing, you play only songs by Barry Manilow and Debbie Boone. You rotate for three hours nothing but “Can’t Smile Without You” and “You Light Up My Life.” Of course, glucose checks are offered the following morning.
You leave the party with a massive headache and think about moving to Denver, assuming planes can land safely among the “fog.” You see that the holiday cards have arrived, but there is no message inside. Why are they blank? Because no one knows what to say. If you say Happy Holidays, are you declaring war on Christmas? If you say Merry Christmas are you disrespecting your Muslim colleagues?
Segal: I got this one covered, I think. Cards ordinarily should be general—Seasons Greetings or Happy Holidays. But if you know the faith of the recipient, it is more than okay to customize. I always wish my Christian friends Merry Christmas. And, I like it when people wish me Happy Hanukkah if they know I am Jewish. I am less happy if they do so because they think I look Jewish. By the way, I found Aaron Greenberg. Remember him?
We call raw fish sushi because raw fish would have about the same cachet as ordering raw cow. We don’t need to come up with a euphemism for Christmas. It is a beautiful and spiritual holiday that should be acknowledged and respected, just not to the exclusion of others.
You leave the building and call a cab. In the cab, the driver asks you where you are going. Your response: “Anywhere, so long as it is far away!”
Flash Forward: You take six months off and then return to HR at another company. Your initial assignment: to ensure that intermittent FMLA is implemented properly. After 4 months, you go on short-term disability due to the stress disorder you have developed….the in-patient care is working but it is not clear when you will be able to return to work.
Segal: If you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, I wish you a peaceful and meaningful holiday that corresponds with your faith. If you celebrate another holiday, I apologize for not referencing it by name, but I wish you a peaceful and meaningful holiday, too. If you celebrate no holidays or a holiday at another time of year, I wish you well just the same.
With all the difficulties that can accompany the holidays in the workplace, it is a time to remember how lucky we are to be alive (“Chai” means life in Hebrew) and to love and to be loved. Yes, it truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Personal note: Last year, I dedicated my blog to my grandparents. I mentioned how, as long as my grandparents were alive, I used to light the Hanukkah candles with them over the phone. By the way, in addition to my grandmother’s Chai, I wear my grandfather’s ring. Even now, on the last night of Hanukkah, I still light the candles, spiritually, with my grandparents. This year, I dedicate the blog to my parents, Rochelle and Hank Segal, whom I love and respect more than words can express. The best of me is from them and I take responsibility for the rest. How blessed am I that I will light the candles with them one night this year in the wonderful house in which I grew up.
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THIS BLOG SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE, AS PERTAINING TO SPECIFIC FACTUAL SITUATIONS OR ESTABLISHING AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.