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We have recently hired a woman at our company that I'll call Jane (not her real name). I have been satisfied with Jane's performance so far and she has been getting along well with her coworkers. However, after we hung up our traditional office Christmas lights, she has had a poor attitude towards me and others at work. She came into my office the other day and complained that hanging up the Christmas lights made her feel like I was 'forcing' Christmas on her, and demanded that I take them down. I refused, saying that this has been our tradition for many years and no other employee has ever complained. She stormed out of my office and then called in sick today. How should I best resolve this situation so that it does not lead to a lawsuit?

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    Are the Christmas lights throughout the whole office? Could you remove them just from her office area, or confine them to a common area of the office? – Brandin Dec 10 '16 at 12:54
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    Are the lights generic (like strands of lights), or do they include religious symbols of some sort? – Monica Cellio Dec 10 '16 at 23:49
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    'forcing' Christmas on her is her interpretation. People react to their own interpretations of the facts (there are lights hanging), not to the facts themselves. You may want to point that out. – Jan Doggen Dec 11 '16 at 10:37
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    @MonicaCellio The lights are just strands of generic multicolored lights. – rep Dec 12 '16 at 0:57
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    Whatever the result just please do not let bullies dictate how you decorate the office, or anything for that matter! Despicable behaviour. – pay Dec 15 '16 at 15:19
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She is being unreasonable, ignore her dislike for Xmas lights and discipline her if she is sabotaging her work for any reason. You have already tried to reason with her and she acted unprofessionally.

Don't let her make this your problem, it's not, it's her problem she needs to deal with in a rational professional manner or face the consequences. Staff cannot dictate office decor to management unless it's a safety issue or something like that.

Storming out of the office and not coming in the next day is cause for discipline already.

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As a Buddhist American, I am not offended by Christmas displays any more than I am offended with Hanukkah displays or with Diwali displays. There is no religious ulterior motive - it's just a celebration - there is no intent to proselytize and there is no malice intended either. We all share the same limited physical space and we have only one life to live, so the name of the game should be acommodation and acceptance of the fact that we don't necessarily believe in the same things. There is always some hyper sensitive soul aka a killjoy who is willing, ready and able to see offense where there is none and who is willing to put everyone through the wringer to assuage their feeling of victimhood. Tell her that if she doesn't like something she sees, she should try not looking at it sometimes.

If Mr or Ms. Killjoy is tasked with visiting a client's office and they see a Christmas decoration there, what does it say about OUR office when they unleash Armageddon on the spot?

If your workplace is in the US, The University of Wisconsin's legal counsel offers some guidance on Christmas decorations. This guidance should be scalable to a corporate environment since the university environment is pretty conservative. If you have an HR, consult your HR. In fact, if your HR is a professional operation, HR should be circulating listing what holiday displays are allowable at your workplace. I've worked at places where HR was a fly-by-night, fly-by-the-seat-of the pants operation but as long as it is the firm's HR that's on the hook over any advice they give and not you, I don't care.

And don't worry about getting sued: in the United Sates, anyone can sue anyone over anything. In fact, we are the most litigious society on Earth and we've got more lawyers per capita than any other country on Earth - No sense worrying about something you cannot do anything about. As long as the Christmas displays remain secular, she is not winning her lawsuits. And she is not winning her lawsuits over a few lights. As long as you've performed due diligence, it's time to say "Screw the killjoys".

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    Your position is not tenable for any of a long list of reasons to many people. Your non-sight of offence doesn't preclude its existence. – user53718 Dec 10 '16 at 9:25
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    I'm having trouble seeing how this answers the question, which is about how the OP should deal with this employee. This looks like commentary, not an answer. – Monica Cellio Dec 11 '16 at 3:08
  • @MonicaCello "There is always some hyper sensitive soul aka a killjoy who is willing, ready and able to see offense where there is none and who is willing to put everyone through the wringer to assuage their feeling of victimhood. If you don't like something you see, you should try not looking at it sometimes." In other words, her whining is falling on my deaf ears. I wouldn't worry about her lawsuits - In America, anyone can sue anyone over anything. If she thinks she can win her lawsuit over a couple of Christmas lights, be my guest. In the UK, loser pays all court courts. – Vietnhi Phuvan Dec 11 '16 at 3:54
  • @VietnhiPhuvan your post at the time of my comment, including that text, seems to be addressed to the coworker. You could improve this answer by addressing what the OP should do in this situation, rather than what you wish the coworker would do differently. If your advice is "ignore her", please add that in. Thanks. – Monica Cellio Dec 11 '16 at 4:43
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She's got a valid point, I'm afraid. You do this because you think it makes employees happy. There is at least one employee who finds it annoying. You have to accept that you can't change her reaction; you either have to try to work with her to find a compromise (maybe get rid of the lights and settle for wreaths and trees, which are actually an adopted non-christian practice) or accept that she is going to be unhappy with you.

Simply discussing it with her and accepting that she is uncomfortable rather than giving the non-answer of "tradition" will help. Ask her whether there's something that you could do which recognizes that some employees do like this stuff but gives her space to feel it isn't being forced upon her.

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    I feel this answer would be improved if it says something about the unprofessional behavior, because whether you are happy with your employer or not, storming out of offices and calling in sick the next day are unacceptable. – Erik Dec 10 '16 at 8:37
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    I disagree with some parts of this answer. Forcing Christmas would be saying everyone has to wear a Chrismas hat or something similar - actually having them do something. But in this case, it's just standard, non-religious even, decoration. Does she argue with city authorities, shop owners and so on about decoration? Would this be justified as well? As for her reaction, it's absolutely not OK to use sick days for no reason or even to display how angry she is. She is being egoistic, ignoring her co-worker's opinions. If she is allowed to do this, she will do it again. – JohnSomeone Dec 10 '16 at 9:17
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    @Erik - Admittedly not a great response on her part. But she could have acted way worse. Making a huge scene in the office, for example. This is the holiday period, and she is probably otherwise a good worker. If she stops her act and I were her management, I'd let her action pass. I've never had the pleasure to fire anyone on Christmas Eve, and I perhaps don't want to :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Dec 10 '16 at 11:28
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    We have no evidence that she called in sick because she was irritated. She could have been irritable because she was getting sick. Beware of jumping to conclusions. – keshlam Dec 10 '16 at 18:00
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    It's easy to dismiss this if it's your holiday, whether by religion or culture. When it isn't, the inability to get away from it really is quite obnoxious. I agree she overreacted, but I really can't blame her, especially as stores bombard us with it earlier every year. – – keshlam Dec 10 '16 at 18:08
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I believe this is less about the "Jane" and more about the reason why one puts on Christmas lights at all.

From a rational and dry point of view, one should evaluate how happy are your employees from the presence of Christmas lights. If everyone's motivation increases and Jane's motivation decreases, consider the opposite scenario - no Christmas lights at all. Will Jane's motivation increase from the normal point? Not likely. Will everyone's motivation decrease? Most likely, because they are used to their tradition. Therefore, Christmas lights should be untouched and Jane needs a disciplinary talk about her behaviour.

Jane's actions show some immaturity and tendency to be controlling at the same time. I doubt she has any rational ground and therefore her behaviour must be treated accordingly.

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You should ask your self, is Christmas Jane’s real problem or just a symptom of the problem?

It could be that Jane finds you office uncomfortable or even hostile to non-Christians. It could be the whole office culture or the way particular people talk. Objecting to Christmas decorations may be an opportunity for her can talk about these problems in a way that specific but not personal. Try your best to look at how it must be like to be in your work environment if you are a non-Christian. You may have to ask others to help you get an outside view of you culture. After real reflection if you can’t say that your office is welcoming of people of different religions and people of no religion then you should make changes.

Changes you may want to consider includes asking people not talk about their religion in a way that assumes that there is a default religion or a ‘correct’ religion. This may also extend to talk of politics if you live somewhere where religion and politics are intertwined. You may also want to make changes to recognize the holidays of other religions and also major secular events such as Pride or Martin Luther King Day in the United States or Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom. Even recognizing holidays for groups of people not represented in the current workforce sends the message that these events are not for a particular sub group within the office.

If you conclude that you are generally a welcoming place for everyone then you still have to think about Jane’s objection to Christmas. Look at this as more than an legal issue, Look at this as how address a morale problem. This is a subjective issue, there is no right answer. As such I suggest try to find a compromise. This starts by having an open conversation with Jane. Acknowledge that she has a point. Also point out that removing the decorations would make others sad. Suggest ways you can celebrate the winter holiday without everyone having to associate it with the biblical story. Some people can call it Christmas but also recognize the session by other names. Put up a sign wishing everyone a “Happy New Year”. Personally, make a point of wishing people “Happy Holidays”.

If you work with Jane, you can make your workplace more welcoming for everyone. You can hire and keep people form a wider talent pool and have happier employees and customers.

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    It might not even be a "non-Christian" thing. Some Christian groups, e.g. Jehovah's Witnesses, are opposed to celebrating Christmas. – Geoffrey Brent Jun 10 '18 at 2:54
  • Famously the Puritans also banned celebrating Christmas, objecting to the secularized merriment. – arp Jun 24 '18 at 10:08
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Jane is being unreasonable and highly unprofessional by storming out and calling in sick, among other things.

You are being unreasonable by implying that since Jane is the first person to ever complain, you know that nobody else has been bothered by the Christmas display before. All you know is that nobody else has ever complained to you before, which is not at all the same thing. It's common for people to be too intimidated to complain about religious displays in the workplace.

You don't say what country or region you are in, but in the US most people can expect to have some level of public Christmas observation forced on them in the workplace whether they like it or not. Even if the displays are strictly secular in nature, the fact remains that in most US workplaces the Christian holiday of Christmas is the only one singled out for office cheer.

Even if you've done nothing technically wrong, you should apologize to Jane for being insensitive before bringing up the highly unprofessional way she handled the issue. It's hard to imagine someone being so upset about secular Christmas decorations in the workplace that they cannot work (and really -- colored lights are one thing, nativity scenes and pictures of saints are generally considered over the line, are you sure that all your Christmas decorations are relatively neutral?) unless they are someone from a very sheltered environment working outside their religious cohort for the first time, or unless they have a personal history of bad experiences with Christmas (and in many families gathering for Christmas can set off all kinds of interpersonal tension).

A common compromise is to restrict holiday decorations to the lobby or other public areas, especially if your office layout allows people to just avoid the decorated area. As the US becomes a more diverse society it becomes harder and harder to pretend that everyone enjoys celebrating Christmas.

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