Do Your Holiday Decorations Suggest Religious Preference?

It’s nearing the time of year when workplaces become more festive. Perhaps your office plans to decorate a Christmas tree, as it does every year. Maybe all your employees celebrate Christmas, so it has never occurred to you that you may, inadvertently, be sending a message about your workplace to others, including job candidates.

Source: Julia Stankevych / Getty

Before you shrug this off, using a phrase like “political correctness,” stop for a moment and think about another phrase: “diversity and inclusion.”

About Job Candidates

The 2014 Religious Landscape Study, conducted by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank, finds 70.6 percent of Americans are Christian. This means that a significant number of Americans, nearly 30 percent, are not.
Nearly 6 percent (5.9 percent) of Americans practice or are affiliated with non-Christian faiths. These faiths include Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and other world religions.
Additionally, 1.5 percent of Americans cite other faiths; these include New Age, Unitarians, and other liberal faiths, as well as Native American religions.
There are also a large number of unaffiliated or non-religious Americans; 22.8 percent identify with “none.” This includes atheist, agnostic, and a category called “nothing in particular.”

About Diversity

America is a melting pot, in terms of ethnicity and religion.
Your company most likely has customers, vendors, and others of diverse backgrounds and faiths who frequent your place of business. Similarly, if your company is hiring, the job candidates you interview have religious beliefs and practices that vary greatly.
As they assess your company as a potential employer, you want job candidates to view your workplace as welcoming. Likewise, you want to show that your company is respectful and accommodating when it comes to diversity, in all its forms. And of course you want to make sure candidates perceive your company as an employer that does not discriminate based on religion.

About Decorations

While there is no law that specifically prohibits private businesses from displaying Christmas decorations, companies should be aware that such decorations may not be appropriate, and may indeed lead to a lawsuit, if a company appears to favor one religion over another.
According to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, a Christmas tree is generally considered a secular nonreligious symbol. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that a Christmas tree is connected to Christmas, a holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus.
In lieu of Christmas decorations, and a potential lawsuit, some companies have opted for winter decorations, like snowflakes and pine cones. Employers have found, with a little creativity, these can be made to look festive—and religion is not on display in the workplace.

Paula Paula Santonocito, Contributing Editor for Recruiting Daily Advisor, is a business journalist specializing in employment issues. She is the author of more than 1,000 articles on a wide range of human resource and career topics, with an emphasis on recruiting and hiring. Her articles have been featured in many global and domestic publications and information outlets, referenced in academic and legal publications as well as books, and translated into several languages.

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