As Christmas is a Christian festival, can an employer still hold a Christmas party if some of its employees belong to other religions?
It is unlikely that an employment tribunal would be willing to decide that the holding of a Christmas party in itself constitutes religious discrimination against any non-Christians contrary to the Equality Act 2010. In part, this is because Christmas parties are not really about celebrating religion. Rather they are about improving staff morale and loyalty and thanking employees for all their hard work and efforts over the previous year. That said, there is currently no case law on this point and it is possible that a non-Christian employee might argue that the office Christmas party discriminates against him or her because the employee's own religious festival is not also celebrated by the employer.
In any event, employers must be careful to take the various religions into account when planning the date, location, theme and catering for their Christmas party. For example, an alcohol-fuelled party in a local pub could well deter Muslim employees whose religion forbids association with alcohol. Friday nights cause problems for Orthodox Jewish employees, because they have to be home an hour before dusk for the start of their Sabbath. Employers should therefore review the proposed arrangements for their Christmas parties and identify areas where staff from different religions might be disadvantaged and then consider how those arrangements could be changed to overcome those disadvantages. Issues to consider include: whether or not the venue is suitable and the date acceptable; whether or not any theme is likely to cause offence to anyone; whether or not a choice of non-alcoholic drinks will be provided; whether or not the menu gives sufficient choice, including vegetarian and vegan options; and whether or not other dietary requirements can be accommodated.