Tag Archives: holidays

A Jewish Guy Who Wears a Chai Gets Personal

I am pleased to share my latest post to The SHRM Blog.

For many years, around the holiday season, I have written cautionary tales from “The Jewish Guy Who Wear A Chai.”  Chai is the number 18 in Hebrew and means life.

This year, I was reluctant to use the title.  For the first time in a long time, I have been the target of antisemitism.  Then, there was the massacre of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

Hatred against Jews is not new.  But it is increasing—there is a meteoric spike in hate crimes against Jews across the globe (both before and after the Pittsburgh massacre).

The day after the massacre in Pittsburgh, I decided to avoid the Jewish Guy theme. That was until I went to an interfaith service at my synagogue.

Even with every effort to accommodate those wishing to attend, there was an overflow crowd with people standing close to each other against the walls.  People of all faiths, races and ethnic backgrounds were there.

I heard from Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and Muslim clergy.  Political leaders from both political parties and leaders of various racial and ethnic groups who were not Jewish made sure, along with the choir of clergy, that their Jewish brothers and sisters were not alone.

I was particularly touched by the words of a Lutheran Pastor.  She said, in effect:

  1.  When anything bad happens to any of us, it happens to all of us.
  2.  When we do anything good for any of us, we do something good for all of us.

I left inspired to write this blog as who I am:  a Jewish guy who proudly wears his Chai.  I will not be cowered.

But, this year, I am not going to talk about holiday decorations or parties, as much as my sarcastic gene cries out. It is time to be more serious.

Regardless of our faith, or lack of faith, we must speak up when there is religious intolerance and that includes in our workplaces.  Here, too, silence is complicity.

But with religion, I have noted the condemnations, even if well intended, often are problematic.  To quote an article by Yair Rosenberg published in the Washington Post:

“It is impossible to recognize and fight a prejudice if you universalize it beyond all recognition.”

The attack in Pittsburgh was against Jews.  The attack in Egypt was against Coptic Christians.  We must be specific on the identities of the victims or we erase their identities.

That does not mean we should not universalize afterward.  We must.  After all, an attack on any of us is an attack on all of us.

But we must start with the identity of the victims.  So Islamophobia is not religious intolerance.  It is Islamophobia.

So, as I close, I chose my words carefully.

We have different faiths.  Some have no faith but act in good faith.

But we owe it to our employees—and ourselves—not only to condemn antisemitism and other forms of religious bigotry by their names but also to imbue the holiday season with an inclusive net of kindness.  After all, what we do good for any of us, we do good for all of us.

10 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays and Minimize Legal Risk

I am please to post my most recent blog on 10 ways to maximize inclusion and minimize the risk of the holidays: https://www.entrepreneur.com 

The rapidly-approaching holiday season can be the most wonderful time of the year, but it also poses legal and employee relations challenges to entrepreneurs of all sizes. But most of these challenges can be mitigated with some thoughtful planning. So here’s a checklist of issues to minimize the risk that your December celebrations will result in January claims.

1. Don’t eliminate Christmas.
Don’t eliminate Christmas from the holiday season, says this Jewish guy. It’s a beautiful holiday that should be celebrated. And a Christmas tree is just fine, too. But what about those who don’t celebrate Christmas? Read on.

2. Include other holidays.
General rule for the holiday season: it’s about inclusion, not exclusion. Rather than excluding Christmas, recognize other holidays, such as Hanukkah and Kwanza. Consider a menorah and Kwanza basket along with the Christmas tree.

3. What holiday did you forget?
You don’t know what you don’t know. Profound. So, ask. Ask employees if there is a holiday that they would like to see included in the celebration (and that includes decorations).

4. What should you call your party?
“Holiday party” is the most inclusive term. Make your party more inclusive by having decorations and the music reflect diverse holidays.

Think also about your choice of decorations and songs. Those that are religious are more appropriate for religious celebrations (or for religious employers).

What if someone is offended by Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”? May that be your biggest problem.

5. Should you serve alcohol?
Never serve it to minors. Make clear adults who get it for them will be fired. As for adults, take steps to minimize abuse, such as limiting drinks, providing lots of food or even making employees pay for alcohol and then donating the money to charity.

Even with restrictions, assume some people will abuse the alcohol you serve. Consider having cab vouchers ready for them without management knowing who the users are. This increases the likelihood that those who need vouchers will use them.

6. What about harassment?
December parties inevitably bring January claims about wandering hands, loose lips and… I’ll stop there. Remember, Jack Daniels is no defense.

This year, the EEOC has called out that alcohol is a risk factor when it comes to harassment, so focus proactively on this risk. Remind your employees that your harassment policy applies to the party. And make sure to name “designated watchers.”

Finally, if you are in management and you see or hear unacceptable comments or conduct, you must intervene. To see and ignore is to condone and increases your legal exposure.

7. What about the after-party?
To be blunt: no good comes from after-parties. Unless, you consider claims arising out of the after-party good. Make clear you are not sponsoring any after-party and do not allow employer money to be used for it. And never attend if you are in management. Attending is about as safe as walking on railroad tracks

8. How about gifts?
Here, too, anticipate the inappropriate. Remind employees that your harassment policy applies here, also. Stay away from the sexual or suggestive, such as gifts from Victoria’s Secret. Rule of thumb: if the gift is appropriate primarily for someone with whom you are intimate, don’t give it to an employee.

9. What about greetings?
It’s best to be general with your holiday greetings unless you know otherwise. The default should be “Happy Holidays.” But if you know someone is Christian, by all means wish that person a Merry Christmas. I know I do.

And I like when people wish me a “Happy Hanukkah” because they know I am Jewish. I am less thrilled if they are making assumptions. Make sure your employees don’t guess or assume anyone’s faith. Stereotypical assumptions here can cause myriad problems, including with customers.

10. Don’t forget the FLSA.
The Fair Labor Standards Act applies all year long, even during the holidays. So, don’t require or strongly suggest that employees attend parties outside of working hours. If you do, you may have to pay them to be miserable. Plus, if people don’t want to come, do you really want their misery there?

With all the difficulties that can accompany the holidays in the workplace, it’s a time to remember how lucky we are to be alive, and to love and to be loved. May peace be with you. Shalom.