Weekly Wrap: Religious Holidays at Work, Tiny Pay Shock, and Bad Behaving Superstars

As HR knows, Christmas at work can be difficult for workers who don't celebrate Christmas.
As HR knows, Christmas at work can be difficult for workers who don't celebrate Christmas.

Is Christmas getting in the way of the holiday season?

Miami Herald columnist and blogger Cindy Krischer Goodman – she’s one of the best writers on workplace issues anywhere – weighed in this week on a sensitive topic that many consider but few discuss. And it’s this:

In workplaces around the country, December typically brings religion to the forefront. Anything from office decorations to holiday parties to arranging time off can open the door to debates about spirituality and religious observances. Holiday cheer, if not managed properly, can drive away workers and, worse, lead to lawsuits.”

Yes, office Christmas celebrations can be dicey if you happen to be one of those employees who doesn’t celebrate Christmas.

Goodman’s story gets into the legal issues that can surface if holiday festivities in the workplace push some workers into uncomfortable positions that conflict with their religious beliefs – like the Jehovah’s Witness who went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when she was fired for refusing to wear a Santa hat during the holiday season at a department store in Raleigh, N.C.

The EEOC says that the female employee was discriminated against because her employer failed to accommodate her religious beliefs that prohibit her from celebrating holidays. “An employee should not be forced to choose between her faith and her job,” said Lynette A. Barnes, an EEOC attorney, told The Miami Herald.

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All of this shouldn’t come as any surprise to experienced managers, because it simply reflects just how much more complex and difficult management has become today in our multi-faith society. Goodman makes this point in her story when she writes:

The message for employers is to proceed cautiously when considering whether to avoid or embrace religion at work. Most businesses do their best to keep religious conversations and practices out of the office. They have turned Christmas parties into holiday events and included menorahs in their decorations…

(And) David W. Miller, director of the Princeton Faith & Work Initiative, says employers should strive to be faith-friendly. “You need to gauge the religious diversity of the workforce,” he says, suggesting that prayer at a company holiday party is sometimes acceptable. “It’s a nice way of showing a focus on something bigger than profits.”

Miller feels some companies have gone too far with political correctness. “A healthy dose of common sense goes a long way.”

Yes, a little common sense would go a long way toward solving most any problem in the workplace, including issues surrounding religious holidays in an office environment. But as we have seen all too much these days – like Macy’s firing Santa for one complaint about a joke he has told hundreds of times over tow decades – common sense, unfortunately, isn’t all that common, particularly at the holidays.

Of course, there’s more than celebrating holidays at work in the news, and here are some other workplace-related news items you may have missed this week. Yes, this is a weekly round up of news, trends, and all sorts of information from the world of HR and talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Tiny pay sticker shock. What happens when managers and formerly high-paid workers find a job after several years of unemployment? In many cases, according to a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, they get “sticker shock” when they see the size of their paycheck. “Lynnette Rasch understood that re-entering the workplace after nearly two years of unemployment could mean accepting a salary below the $86,000 a year – more than $41 an hour – that she earned in her last job,” the newspaper reports, but Rasch was hardly prepared for the $10 hourly compensation that accompanied an offer to join the human resources team of a major retailer. “My mouth dropped open,” said Rasch, 57, a homeowner and college graduate with years of experience as a mid-level executive with Fortune 500 corporations. And as bad as that sounds, here’s the kicker: “The company then amended its original offer – instead giving Rasch a floor sales position at $9 an hour.”
  • Millennials? They aren’t saving for retirement, either. You probably have read a lot about how the Baby Boomer generation, as a whole, isn’t saving enough for retirement. Now, it looks like the Millennials are on the same path, according to an analysis by Aon Hewitt. “Generation Y workers (those ages 18 to 30) may be most at risk…despite having the most amount of time to save. Due to lack of participation in defined contribution plans, low savings rates and high rates of cash outs, eight in 10 Generation Y workers will not meet all of their financial needs in retirement unless they significantly improve their saving and investing behaviors.”
  • Handling bad behavior in a “superstar” worker. Handling office “superstars” has always been a management challenge, and a story this week in Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper gets into just how difficult a challenge it still is. “Temper tantrums, sexist remarks, chronic lateness, information hoarding, playing favourites … people don’t always behave themselves at work. But…some organizations actually nurture bad behaviour, according to Lew Bayer, president and CEO of Civility Experts Worldwide, a workplace consultancy in Winnipeg…(But) when it comes to the hijinks of a high performer, where you draw the line usually comes down to the bottom line.”
  • Another “only in Silicon Valley” perk. “Silicon Valley’s workplace perks,” the San Jose Mercury News notes, “are legendary: corporate chefs, on-site massages, stock options. Now several prominent valley companies are adding a new one — electric-vehicle charging stations for their employees.” And, it is more than just company’s adding this as a fun and cutting-edge perk. “Demand for charging stations also is hot right now because federal tax credits — equal to 50 percent of the cost of charging stations, or up to $2,000 for individuals and $50,000 for businesses — are set to expire Dec. 31.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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