Forced to attend X-mas function against religion
November 23, 2005 11:23 AM   Subscribe

I have a co-worker who is Orthodox Jewish. Our Christmas party this year is being made mandatory.

She has been in past, able to take off the traditional Jewish holidays. When she emailed our boss to requested to not attend, he flatly refused to let her out of it. I told her to file a complaint with our local EEOC. This just seems wrong. Anyone have thoughts on this? It seems open and shut. Should she just suck it up and go or proceed with some form of legal action?
posted by anonymous to Religion & Philosophy (61 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Thoughts on it? This is ridiculous! To even have a Christmas party mandatory is one thing, then to have an Orthodox Jew be denied exemption -- absurd. I've never known an office party, secular or religious, to be mandatory. The only thing I can think of is if your line of business depends heavily on interacting with clients at the office party and her presence would severly diminish your ability to gain and retain said clients. If that was the case they should take ever step necessary to make the party as secular themed as possible.
posted by geoff. at 11:37 AM on November 23, 2005

can you provide more info? whether or not she should take legal action depends on how much it bothers her and/or conflicts with her religion. is the party on a friday night? do they require a christmas prayer? is it relatively secular, or is it a religious party? does she still get to take time off for hanukkah?

if everyone has to go and it's a secular-type party and it doesn't conflict with shabbat or another religious activity for her, i'd say she should just go. trying to avoid christmas in america is nearly impossible... i gave up on that a long time ago, and just focus on the secular, non-religious aspects.
posted by booknerd at 11:38 AM on November 23, 2005

What will happen if she just doesn't go? Will she get disciplined, written up, or fired? Has the employer spelled out consequences if she refuses to attend? I would try to find out what those would be. I don't even see how it could be mandatory. They aren't getting paid for going to this party, right? This is so wrong. She needs to go to her HR dept or her state's department of labor.
posted by pieoverdone at 11:39 AM on November 23, 2005

Two questions:

1) Is the party on Shabbat (Friday sundown through Saturday sundown)?

2) Is it a Christmas party as opposed to a holiday party? Can the boss be any more accomodating about this?

If the answer to #1 is yes, then she is simply taking off a traditional Jewish holiday, and if he doesn't let her, it's pretty serious religious discrimination.

Question 2 isn't as directly relevant, but might make some difference.

I guess a key point is that the EEOC might or might not do anything about it, but there is always a risk of reprisal, so the question is how much this party would offend her values.

on preview: booknerd has the right idea
posted by JMOZ at 11:39 AM on November 23, 2005

I think the problem is that the party is mandatory, not that she can't be exempted for her superstitions.

Is it during work hours? If not, then I would skip it based on the lame alone.
posted by jon_kill at 11:51 AM on November 23, 2005

How offensive this is for her? An office christmas party is far from a religious event these days. Normally it is just a party with some blinking lights and songs that don't even mention Jesus at any point. Unless your company has a different concept of christmas party, I think she should suck it up.
posted by falameufilho at 11:53 AM on November 23, 2005

Some of you don't seem to know any Orthodox Jews or have the faintest conception why this is offensive. Which it is, very, and like geoff I find it hard to believe they're not making an accommodation. On the other hand, I'd be leery of encouraging her to make an issue of it unless she's prepared to lose her job (no, obviously the boss isn't going to fire her on the spot, but if he gets the idea she's a troublemaker he'll find a way to get rid of her before long). If she thinks she can find another job without much trouble, then yeah, she should go to the EEOC. This is really beyond the pale.
posted by languagehat at 11:58 AM on November 23, 2005

And can we please not turn this into yet another go-around about how dumb religion is or isn't?
posted by languagehat at 11:59 AM on November 23, 2005

[please take any "religion is/is not superstition" side comments straight to email/metatalk.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:05 PM on November 23, 2005

Jess - Yes we can perfectly take this to email/metatalk. However, my post was deleted and his post stands there. I call that bias.
posted by falameufilho at 12:11 PM on November 23, 2005

If it's on a Friday night, she doesn't have to go, period. She's entitled to time off for religious holidays and forcing her to go out on Shabbat for work (regardless of the fact that it's a Christmas party) is unacceptable. She should politely explain to her boss what Friday night is all about, and if he still refuses to let her out of it, contact someone at the EEOC and start looking for another, more tolerant job.
posted by booknerd at 12:14 PM on November 23, 2005

Some of you don't seem to know any Orthodox Jews or have the faintest conception why this is offensive.

I happen to know some, and I think they sometimes take things too far. Multiculturalism and tolerance are two-way roads. What is the problem of attending a Christmas party? Would you be offended if your Jewish boss required you to go to a Pessach seder? (for reasons other than your boss requiring you to do stuff that are not in your job description i.e. going to parties)
posted by falameufilho at 12:17 PM on November 23, 2005

It is on a Friday.

This is being termed a "Christmas" party.

But it's during work and not in the evening, isn't it? She's gotten actual holidays off-- sounds like she needs lots of accomodation and your boss is sick of it.

But, like I said, I suspect that it's during work hours or it couldn't be mandatory. Sounds like she sucks and she has to suck it up. Your boss seriously can't be stupid enough to actually be in violation of the EOEC and then tell her to report it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:17 PM on November 23, 2005

If it is on a Friday, no she can't and will not attend. Orthodox Jews simply do not break the Sabbath - if they did they wouldn't be Orthodox Jews - and it is very bad form to encourage her to do so. She probably knows very well how to politely decline such an offer. If her boss retaliates she can sue and win - although I wouldn't suggest she should threaten such action in advance.

If you prick me, do I not sue?....

I have Sabbath observant orthodox Jews in all of my bands, and while I am not Ortho, I keep to an old custiom that as a Jew I will not encourage another Jew to break the Sabbath even if I don't hold to the law myself. And so I will not advertise concerts that my Jewish bands play on, say, Friday nights.
posted by zaelic at 12:18 PM on November 23, 2005

Ah, and despite my comment above, I second the sabbath thing. If it's on a Friday after sunset, or if it will require her to break sabbath by not leaving early enough, she should be completely excused. It's one thing to adhere to your religious beliefs, another entirely to refuse any contact with other peoples religious customs.
posted by falameufilho at 12:23 PM on November 23, 2005

Wow, that's a sucky thing to do to your employees. I can imagine that for an Orthodox Jew this might be a big thing. The problem with complaining to the EEOC, though, is that it's likely to sink her future with the company. It may not actually get her fired right away, but it will certainly remove her chances of further success with the firm. If it were on another night, I'd say that she should just go, as the party will probably be pretty secular, and leave as early as possible. I'd be astonished if Jesus or anything religious got mentioned at all. So I guess what I'm saying is that I think she should look at it as "should I go to a party Friday night" rather than "should I go to a Christian event". I think the question for her should be regarding keeping the Sabbath rather than Christmas. I wish her luck, though, that's a terrible situation to be in.
posted by unreason at 12:24 PM on November 23, 2005

Incidentally, I forgot to add that even non-observant Jews often feel uncomfortable about the secular side of Christmas. Some of us simply would prefer not to take part. That non-participation is a part of our culture. If it were Arbor Day or July 4th things would be different, but Xmas and Easter.... nope. These things are usually "our own business" until a public situation like office Christmas parties (or school prayer) come up.

It isn't because we suck and are assholes. It is because not all culture is, or should necessarily be homogenized to any single mass standard.
posted by zaelic at 12:26 PM on November 23, 2005

The mischievous side of me says that she should go dressed as a concentration camp prisoner, and bring many friends dressed that was as well.

The serious side of me says that she should go, but address the issue with her boss's boss, and failing that, the EEOC.

Also; will there be a menorah at the party? A dreidel? Latkes? If not, she should bring them.
posted by weirdoactor at 12:28 PM on November 23, 2005

No, she shouldn't have to suck it up and go. This is not a business critical meeting or presentation. It's a party. A party for a holiday she doesn't celebrate and has her own religious obligations and beliefs that prevent her from going.

I can't wrap my head around making something like this mandatory.

What I'm also wondering is that if this is mandatory, and is after hours, wouldn't it also fall under requiring the employer to pay overtime for those who do attend?
posted by pieoverdone at 12:33 PM on November 23, 2005

If she is Orthodox, she won't bring a dreydl and an Menorah, because Chanukah is not a "Jewish Christmas." And believe me, if it is on a Friday after about 4 pm, she isn't going to go. She's frum.
posted by zaelic at 12:36 PM on November 23, 2005

Could you tell us how this turns out? I'd really like to know.
posted by unreason at 12:41 PM on November 23, 2005

booknerd writes "If it's on a Friday night, she doesn't have to go, period"

Another week, another round of MeFites believing they have more work-related protections than they do. She likely can be required to go, she likely can be terminated or disciplined for not attenting. Your protection in this arena is likely zilch but it's up to your state. You can read about a recent brou-ha-ha we had here in Virginia when some well-meaning blue-law repealement returned an older law into play guaranteeing workers the sabbath off.

She might have some luck going after them for religious persecution but I suspect most of the courts are going to give this a shrug and a wink and say it's standard end-of-year celebrations. She'll have to decide what it's worth to her as far as a fight but if your workplace is determined to be such complete cocksuckers she'll likely be having the fight unemployed.
posted by phearlez at 12:41 PM on November 23, 2005

An office christmas party is far from a religious event these days.

I know what you're saying, falameufilho, but if they're calling it a Christmas party, then by definition it's religious.

Someone--hi there, OP--needs to call the local media and create an uproar. This is outrageous.
posted by scratch at 12:42 PM on November 23, 2005

"Another week, another round of MeFites believing they have more work-related protections than they do. She likely can be required to go, she likely can be terminated or disciplined for not attenting"

...which is why i ended my post by saying she should look for a new job. what should be illegal and what is are often two totally different things. she doesn't have to go, she doesn't have to put up with discrimination, but she does have to make the choice of whether or not to work for someone who won't respect her.
posted by booknerd at 12:45 PM on November 23, 2005

please take any "religion is/is not superstition" side comments straight to email/metatalk

I'm glad to take it there, but it would seem that a proper discussion of the type of respect religion deserves in the workplace would be based in voicing our own personal opinion of religion. If we want to neuter the discussion by limiting its scope to discussing generalities about how outraged we should be, maybe the mods could set the tone from the getgo.

Anyway, my opinion stands: she shouldn't go because it is lame to require an employee to attend a party. I imagine the boss isn't thinking, "They're gonna come and celebrate my religious holiday, their religion be damned!" He's thinking, "They're gonna come and we'll have fun and I can require this morale-building nonsense because I'm the boss and I write the cheques." If that really bothers you that much, then please, Metatalk.
posted by jon_kill at 12:57 PM on November 23, 2005

If she's in good standing and not a problem to the boss in other ways, I would suggest approaching him a second time. In a calm and non-threatening way (don't threaten to sue unless you've already talked to a lawyer and have a plan together that you're willing to act on) explain how serious the situation is on a personal level. She might have a better shot at swaying him if she emphasizes the personal importance of her belief rather than trivializing his and Christmas.

The spirit of both holidays should be to bring people together, not cause a wedge. I'm all for team bonding, but not at the expense of alienating a member of that team. As others have said, if he wants her out there are ways to do it indirectly. So pissing off a boss, even an irrational one, seldom works in your favor. If it's a big company with an HR department that should be the next step, but for relationship purposes in a longterm career there, I'd urge another try at diplomacy on a one-on-one level.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 1:00 PM on November 23, 2005

She likely can be required to go, she likely can be terminated or disciplined for not attending"

If she was fired and they told her it was because she didn't attend the Xmas party, I would guess the ACLU or ADL might take up some legal recourse for her.

Of course, her employer could just make life miserable for her for not attending...but it seems that has already started.
posted by sexymofo at 1:01 PM on November 23, 2005

how many people would refuse to go? if you can get a significant group together who think the idea is worth fighting against, then you could refuse as a group to turn up. you only need enough to make firing difficult.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:02 PM on November 23, 2005

She should just not go. I can't believe that there's a person idiotic enough to compel attendance at a Christmas party. I also can't believe that said idiot would try to compel an orthodox jew to attend. And finally, if she's disciplined for not attending a friday night Christmas party after stating a religious objection I can't believe that any sane company wouldn't punish the idiot manager in the hopes of avoiding a law suit. Of course I'm not a lawyer and it's possible that the world is even more fucked up than I imagine it to be.
posted by rdr at 1:03 PM on November 23, 2005

If she was fired and they told her it was because she didn't attend the Xmas party, I would guess the ACLU or ADL might take up some legal recourse for her.

Yeah, but they don't have to do it that way. They could always wait and find a phony excuse to fire her later. Unless they explicitly say so, it's difficult to prove that you were fired for such and such a reason.
posted by unreason at 1:04 PM on November 23, 2005

Has she explained to your boss why she doesn't want to attend, or just requested that she not go? Perhaps if he understands that for her, it's not just the Christmas thing, it's the breaking-of-the-sabbath thing, he'll relent.

This really is outrageous.
posted by Specklet at 1:04 PM on November 23, 2005

My approach - and I realize that this won't work in a lot of workplaces - would be for the poster and/or the Jewish worker's friends to simply boycott the party - tell the boss you're not coming, and tell the boss why. Do this in a group, in writing, if that makes you all feel more secure.

Often, people get away with this because they think its just one "troublemaker" (the Jewish lady, in this case) making a fuss. Its funny how much real strength and power there is in numbers.

(Also, call your local alt weekly)
posted by anastasiav at 1:18 PM on November 23, 2005

If the company is stupid enough to call it a "Christmas" party then they can't make it mandatory. They probably called it a "holiday" party, though, which is less "open and shut."

I'm not sure if the law provides for days off on one's religious holidays. If so I'm going to shop around for a faith with lots of them.
posted by scarabic at 1:23 PM on November 23, 2005

It occurs to me that if the Christmas Party is mandatory, then it better be paid company time.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:29 PM on November 23, 2005

Every once in a while my employer announces "mandatory attendance" functions near holidays -- sometimes on holidays.

Every time, I ignore them.

It's a little game we play.

It's all alpha-male chest-thumping on the company's part, because they can't afford to fire any of their pared-down workforce over something so trivial. (eg. I am the only employee in what should be a 3-person department)

If she's disposable, she'll have to be careful, but otherwise, I'd call the boss on it and not go -- see what happens.

She should take good notes on what measures she took to appeal to her employer, so that if she is canned, she can look into the possibility of litigation, but honestly, she should be shopping for another job.
posted by Crosius at 1:29 PM on November 23, 2005

They probably called it a "holiday" party, though, which is less "open and shut."

Nope, it's still pretty open and shut. If she's frum, she's can't stick around for that party, no matter what name you slap on it.

I'm not sure if the law provides for days off on one's religious holidays.

The Sabbath isn't really a holiday in the sense that, say, Veteran's Day is. This isn't a matter of providing a day off. It's more like her boss requiring her to eat a fist-full of bacon.

By the way, here's a little secret for those not in the know: We Jews don't really care about Hanukkah all that much. It's more fun than it is special and we don't really expect any special consideration or time off for it. The Sabbath, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are vastly more important.

Anyway, your coworker should calmly make it very clear that she can't attend the party, not because of any relation it may have with Christmas, but because she's observant and has to be doing certain other things by sundown. If your boss isn't grasping that, hand him a copy of George Robinson's Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals. It's a great resource.
posted by Jon-o at 1:39 PM on November 23, 2005

As a coworker I think the question should be what you all are going to do, not so much what she is going to do. Filing such a lawsuit is a serious deal, but it might be solvable by some solidarity instead. How do others feel about this? Could you confront your boss as a group and say you think it's inappropriate and that you support her? If so, I'd say that's optimal. You will be drawing lines for your boss, and reclaiming some autonomy, while solving the problem directly.
posted by aussicht at 1:42 PM on November 23, 2005

I'm guessing that this mandatory party attendance decree is a symptom of serious morale problems in this workplace. Who requires employes to go to a party, unless plenty of 'em want to skip it? And what kind of jerk makes party attendance obligatory?

I suggest you not get too worked up about the spot your friend is in -- if the place is pretty f*cked up in general.

If I'm wrong and it's a lovely place to work, then one boorish move on the part of the boss can probably be allowed to slide.
posted by wryly at 1:50 PM on November 23, 2005

Sorry it took me so long to reply to this. Couldn't figure out how to comment anonymously.

Update: She can skip the party but will not get that Monday off paid (it's being tied to a paid day off). She will have to take a vacation or personal day. By the looks of it, that will be the same situation with other non-jewish co-workers who have commitments that night.

In other words, it's not as insidious as I originally made it sound so I want to apologize to you all. This all just sort of unfolded here and it took awhile to get it all ironed out.

I do appreciate most everyone's passion about this and your willingness to help. Most of us were scratching our heads wondering how a boss could have their head so far in the sand but as it turns out, he's just being a dick.
posted by RDNZL at 1:50 PM on November 23, 2005

I attended an orthodox synagogue for most of my childhood, grown up with separate dish sets and two sinks, and steadfastly observing all shabbos rules. On the surface, this is bullshit. (Note: I no longer adhere strictly to orthodox rules.)

Were I still strictly orthodox and in your co-worker's position, I think I'd consider it an insult if I were being forced to disregard my beliefs to attend. If this is a party that interferes with her shabbos obligations as an orthodox Jew, there is absolutely no way she should "just suck it up."

However, if she is able to attend evening services and carry out all of her obligations, AND she is able to get to the party on foot, she could consider attending, at least for a little while.

If she can only get there by car/bus/train, she shouldn't be forced to go.

If her objection is with the "Christmas" label on the party, she probably ought to get over that. The company shouldn't be calling it that, but there's probably not much legal ground for her to stand on if she files a complaint based on the name of the party. If there's no prayer or Christian ritual involved in the party, I'd guess that there's really no impact on her civil rights. (Course, I'm no lawyer.)

Shomer shabbos!
posted by sellout at 1:54 PM on November 23, 2005

I'm guessing that this mandatory party attendance decree is a symptom of serious morale problems in this workplace. Who requires employes to go to a party, unless plenty of 'em want to skip it? And what kind of jerk makes party attendance obligatory?

Bingo. You nailed it.
posted by RDNZL at 1:56 PM on November 23, 2005

Update: She can skip the party but will not get that Monday off paid (it's being tied to a paid day off). She will have to take a vacation or personal day. By the looks of it, that will be the same situation with other non-jewish co-workers who have commitments that night.

That's just crappy mgmt. It's a whole new issue too. If you are alotted x amt of paid time off a year, that should be it. Not because you attend some retardo office party.

Maybe the suggestion to find a new job isn't such an extreme one after all.
posted by pieoverdone at 1:59 PM on November 23, 2005

You should both probably look for new jobs. They'll try to fuck you one day, too. Not getting paid for a day off because you didn't go to some lame fucking "party"? Barf.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:03 PM on November 23, 2005

Since this was much ado about nothing, I need to do this:

"and I sure as shit DON'T FUCKING ROLL ON SHABBOS!"
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:10 PM on November 23, 2005

What phearlez said.

Just some thoughts:

--Who cares that they referred to it as a Christmas party? Firstly, it doesn't sound like the party is really going to be a religious event. It was probably just named that way because it's around Christmastime and Christmas is a big deal in the Western world. Obviously no one put a whole lot of thought into the name for political correctness. Chill out a little.

--Why exactly can't an Orthodox Jew go to a Christmas party? I'm a Christian and I've been to bar mitzvahs. I've observed Muslim etiquette when meeting a Muslim. I can see no reason for you not to go to a Christmas party, even if it has a mildly religious purpose. Unless your boss tries to make you say Christian prayers at the party, I completely fail to see why you can't go and even participate. If you find a Christian gathering offensive, you're the one being discriminatory. Believe it or not, there are other cultures out there. (I am relatively ignorant in the actual customs of Orthodox Jews though, so if there is some clause that would keep them from seeing a Christmas party, please correct me.)

--Your rights aren't as solid on avoiding this party as some people in this thread seem to think. I'm a Canadian and I'm not as familiar with American law as I am with Canadian law, but this isn't a violation of your constitutional rights. Like I said, IANAAL: consult one for formal advice on your rights there.

--If it's the breaking of the sabbath that really concerns you, then you might be on stronger ground than the protest of the word "Christmas". But if going to a party is okay behaviour during the sabbath, and that wasn't the issue (which is the impression I get) then she should go.
If it would break her Sabbath to do so, then approach the boss and explain that to him/her. If there are a lot of Jewish employees, note that and suggest an alternative date when employees of all religions can go. Don't be confrontational, and be sure to explain clearly why you couldn't go.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 2:11 PM on November 23, 2005

Why exactly can't an Orthodox Jew go to a Christmas party?

Did you even bother reading the thread? Not everyone is an anything-goes secular type, hard as that may be to believe.

I'm glad the party thing got resolved, in however stingy and assholish a manner; I join with those who urge a job hunt sooner rather than later. This is clearly not an employer one wants to spend years and years with.
posted by languagehat at 2:49 PM on November 23, 2005

I told her to file a complaint with our local EEOC. ... It seems open and shut.
You're right, and you're right. She should consider whether it's worth making waves at her workplace; but if she feels it is, then she should speak with an attorney experienced in employment law. This should be easily (although probably not amicably) solved.
posted by cribcage at 2:58 PM on November 23, 2005

The question is not about 'religion is teh stupid!!1 suck it up and go to your party'.

It's that she has a religion (undebatable) that has as part of its tenets of belief a non involvement in secular/semi-christian holiday celebration (undebatable) and she has a boss that is lording 'go to this party or lose your paid day off because of your religious belief and its requirements' (probably illegal)
posted by pieoverdone at 3:01 PM on November 23, 2005

Curious non US-er here, and also Jewish (although not orthodox) - can employees take days off work for religious holidays without taking them as days from their paid holiday/vacation allowance as standard - ie. is this a standard practice under the law or does this depend on the company? Similarly, presumably if you're Orthodox Jewish, and you observe the Shabbat rules very strictly, you will need to leave work early every Friday during the winter months - are employers legally bound to allow their Jewish employees to do so (as that's the impression I'm getting from the 'the employer cannot stop her from observing the Shabbat comments)? Or is this dependent on the company - e.g. if the company allows flexi-time, so Jewish employees can leave early on Fridays and make the time up on other days - rather than standard practice?

I'm curious, as it's certainly the case in my company and others I and my friends have worked at, that any days I wish to take off for religious holidays have to be taken as part of my paid holiday allowance (although we in the UK tend to get much more generous allowances, as 20-25 days is usually standard amongst salaried jobs, and it's rare to get so few days as many US employees get). Equally, I imagine that if I were an observant Jew, it would very much depend on finding a sympathetic employer who was willing to allow flexitime if I wanted to leave early every Friday - yet the impression I'm getting is that this seems not to be the case, as the comments seems to suggest that the employer absolutely cannot prevent the employee from leaving early?

Would be very interested to learn what the law/practice is in the US!
posted by kitschbitch at 3:03 PM on November 23, 2005

Has she approached HR about this? If the company is too small for that, start job hunting because if her boss is that intractable about a stoopit thing like a 'mandatory' party, he'll be much worse when it comes to more important issues.

I had a similar job where christmas parties were mandatory. Was at that gig for 4 years and never went to a single one. Did he like it? Feh, what do I care. I did my job, showed up on time, played nice with all the other kids and made him money. What I do on my off-time is my business, not his.
posted by Tacodog at 3:15 PM on November 23, 2005

Don't know about the US, but it was recently ruled in Ontario that a weekly religious day off is the right of the corporation and not the right of the employee. It's part of the Retail Business Holidays Act.

ie: If you define your corporation to be christian, you may require a sunday holiday, and require an employee to work during ANY other day despite their religion.

There is no mention as to what a secular company should do, in fact, the legislation assumes a religious company and therefore a sabbath day.

Recently this came to a head in a jewish company with mostly muslim employees. It was decided the company's sabbath (saturday for some reason) would prevail, and muslims not showing up to work on friday (their sabbath) could be fired.

Personally, I can see why this is required, or you will have employees joining random religions to take whatever day off they feel works best for them. I choose mondayism!

So, depending on where you are, the whole "Friday is the sabbath" thing is right out the window. Forcing participation in a religious activity, though, is a different matter.

Note that Ontario is typically very, very, very christian-centric in holidays, requiring business close on christmas and easter holidays, or they pay VERY stiff fines, just FYI. Other forced "holidays" (like Boxing Day, forced Sunday closings, etc) weren't struck down in the face of obviously being illegal (by the charter of rights). Instead the government fought tooth and nail in various courts against the charter, and eventually gave up when the court told them the law was illegal. Nobody has challenged Christmas or Easter yet... hmmm... free advertising and law-learning opportunity for me maybe?! :-D
posted by shepd at 3:36 PM on November 23, 2005

she has a boss that is lording 'go to this party or lose your paid day off because of your religious belief and its requirements' (probably illegal)

No, she has a boss that is lording "go to this party or lose your paid day off, whether you're a Jew who won't appear for religious reasons, or someone who has an AA meeting that night, or someone who has a medical appointment, or just someone who doesn't feel like going." I'd bet a fancy meal that that's very, very legal, even though it is indeed really jerkish and stupid.

What might be illegal would be if other people were allowed to skip and keep the paid day off because they just didn't want to go, but a Jewish reason for not going didn't count.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:51 PM on November 23, 2005

How are her reasons (religion) even relevant here?

She was hired, with no discrimination, at which point (preferably during negotiations) it is her responsibility to ensure her employment contract is compatible with her religion, lifestyle, etc before signing it.

If the employment contract that she signed, indicates that work events may be required outside the normal schedule, and lacks caveats for her to use in this kind of situation, then the party can be mandatory and her religion simply doesn't come into it. At that point, if she wishes the time off, and can't get it, she can get it by quitting (or by not showing up and taking her chances with the consequences).

Under that set of assumptions, it would be wrong for her to claim religious discrimination. She signed a contract that she later wanted to back out of. Her reasons for wanting to back out are not relevant.

If the contract has a caveat that she can use, (or doesn't allow for compulsary attendance outside normal hours) why isn't she using it? Basically, why isn't this open-and-shut based on what is written in her contract?

Of course whatever the contents of the contract, it doesn't change the fact that her boss is being an asshole and damaging the company instead of helping it, but that's a company issue, not a legal/rights one.

IANAL. Obviously. :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 4:07 PM on November 23, 2005

Incidentally, I realise that the contract is not useful for resolving the dispute - hard feelings can so easily translate into being let go further down the track. But I am wondering why there is talk of filing a complaint when the contract probably indicates who does/doesn't have the right here.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:24 PM on November 23, 2005

Do religions have arbitrary/silly rules? Yes, as seen from the outside -- seen from the inside things are different.

Is mildly religious/secular society expected to be tolerant in ways that deeply religious people are not? Yes, pretty much by definition, though the expectation of tolerance is often not a legal requirement. On the other hand people who follow faiths with strict rules may have many practical troubles living within the broader society, so they are not really getting a free pass.

Though shitty managers ought to be against the law, they seem to be the rule rather than the exception. It may be hard to be forced to choose between following religious rules and a particular job requirement, and your boss may well be an asshole, but unless the requirement to attend is being applied unequally to members of one particular faith, l don't think there is likely much legal recourse, unless you have an employment contract that says otherwise.

It is no exaggeration to state that there are many religious people who would prefer death to compromise on religious matters; possibly a not entirely rational attitude, but such faith discounts the rational in matters of religion. Which is more important your religion or your job? The answer pretty much defines whether or not you are deeply religious. For a deeply religious person whose faith rules out attendance, for whatever reason, there really isn't a choice: don't go, let the chips fall where they may.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 4:31 PM on November 23, 2005

kitschbitch -- my understanding is that US law doesn't require employers to give people any paid time off, period. Almost every employer does, however, because it's good for morale and it's a low-cost benefit that can attract workers.

In practice, most of the places I've worked have given employees six "federal" holidays per year, in addition to their vacation time. These are generally New Years Day (Jan. 1), Memorial Day (a Monday in May), Independence Day (July 4), Labor Day (a Monday in Sept.), Thanksgiving (a Thursday in Nov.), Christmas Day (Dec. 25). A number of places also give people the Friday after Thanksgiving off.

In many workplaces, if you have a religious holiday not covered by your employer you can swap a one of their holidays (especially Christmas) for a day of your own. Then you work in a very empty office on the official holiday, and stay home from a busy office during your religous observance. Alternately, you can use your paid vacation time for that.

There's no minimum amount of paid vacation time given in the US, either. I had a job once that didn't award any vacation until the one year anniversary, then gave only 5 days. Most places start with two weeks vacation, then increase it as you develop seniority.

The government is different -- generally government workers get more guaranteed days off. And even though bank holidays aren't mandated by law, banks give their workers lots of holidays that the rest of us don't get.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:41 PM on November 23, 2005

So at these mandatory Christmas [or holiday] parties, is having fun also mandatory?

Please tell me, dear anonymous this is happening a small town at a small company.

The things that some companies do amazes me. Making a requirement to attend something that not everyone in the organization would appreciate and enjoy -- and to some would be a violation of their religious rules -- doesn't sit well with me. Let's hope pork isn't on the menu for the meal.

What about Jehovah's Witness? They're Christian and don't celebrate Christmas. Maybe it is because I've always worked for organizations that were pretty multicultural, but it seems the pointy headed bosses go out of their way to accommodate the diversity of its employees.

I will make appearances at my company's holiday parties more for political reasons -- team player, etc -- than to celebrate a pagan holiday with my coworkers.
posted by birdherder at 6:25 PM on November 23, 2005

What this comes down to, firstly, is what are the laws and regulations for the state in which RDNZL and his/her coworker employed? State employment law always trumps Federal if it offers more protection.

Without knowing that, all one can go by is Federal employment law, which says an empolyer only has to "reasonably accomodate" an employee's religious practices. However if said practices result in an "undue hardship" for the employer, than a reasonable accomodation isn't possible and the employee has no protection.

(Granted, the employee can take the employer to court - where an undue hardship will have to be proven - but how many people can afford lawyers?)

Secondly, if RDNZL is employed in an at-will state, then the religiously observant coworker probably doesn't have an employment contract anyway.

Finally, unless an agreement was made between the employee and employer during the hiring process (in writing), she's experiencing firsthand what the last 60 years of Federal employment legislation has done for the American worker.

Again, state law may offer better protections.
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 6:47 PM on November 23, 2005

Please tell me, dear anonymous this is happening a small town at a small company

This is in a major city (one of the big three and in an "at-will" state) and yes, it amazes me too. In all my years I've never been required to attend a Christmas party even if it was held during business hours.

Morale is quite low at said company and she has been searching elsewhere for work, prior to this. The bigger issue now, seems to be company-wide and more about the policy of required attendance at a function and a screwy boss.
posted by RDNZL at 8:16 PM on November 23, 2005

Hrm. Well, it's obvious that the employer is a loser. The only reason that this kind of thing is "mandatory" is that they don't want to go to the expense without "getting their money's worth." They say stuff like this to keep rumors of "I'm not going, are you?" from spreading and sucking the lifeblood out of the party. But in all seriousness - they're not going to fire people over it. It's not like every last person will actually be there. If that were the true expectation, then there would be 3 firings over every single holiday party every year.

Whoever this is, she should just not attend. Especially if even stepping into the room is as intolerable as having a fistful of pork rammed down her throat.

I always thought that individual religious freedom and mutual religious tolerance went hand in hand, but what do I know?
posted by scarabic at 9:47 PM on November 23, 2005

Another option, if such circumstance occurs again: on the day (or evening) of the mandatory party, it wouldn't surprise me if the person in question suddenly fell quite ill with, say, diarrhea, or something equally off-putting. One phone call to the boss, or fellow employee, with a graphic description of the symptoms and a slight tinge of regret in the voice that you won't be able to make it to the party.

Hey, these things happen - are they gonna call you out and say that you're faking?
posted by davidmsc at 7:45 AM on November 24, 2005

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