Employment Law firm Peninsula claims that four out of five firms it surveyed will not be paying for a staff Christmas party this year. Guru takes the whole thing with a pinch of salt, reminding us that Peninsula’s Christmas-is-cancelled surveys are becoming as much a part of the festive tradition as tinsel, Santa ties and those silly reindeer antlers that drunken idiots wear on their heads. To prove his point, he links to a similar report from 2003.
The folks at Peninsula must be a little disappointed this year though. It appears that no mainstream newspapers have picked up on their press release. Perhaps there are just too many other things going on. How different from two years ago when the firm almost single handedly started a political correctness scare. Even the BBC ran the story in which Peninsula claimed that three quarters of employers had banned Christmas celebrations for fear of offending people from non-Christian faiths. Tabloids like the Mail loved this story and created such a stink that government ministers Jack Straw and John Reid felt compelled to make public statements on the issue.
Amidst all the noise, sceptical and more considered reactions to the survey were all but drowned out. Blogger Five Chinese Crackers didn’t believe a word of it and emailed Peninsula to get a full copy of the report. On receiving it, FCC did an excellent fisking job. The details are here but the real howler in the survey was this question:
Are you aware of your legal requirements to celebrate all faiths?
This is, of course, bullshit. There are laws preventing discrimination and harassment on the grounds of faith. Some lawyers believe there may be an obligation on employers to allow time and space for prayer, although that hasn’t been tested yet, but the ACAS Guidance on the Employment Regulations says:
4.1 The Regulations do not say that employers must provide time and facilities for religious or belief observance in the workplace.
There is, in short, no requirement for employers to celebrate all faiths.
The questions in the survey were loaded to produce certain answers which were then used to make all sorts of wild claims. According to the press release that accompanied the survey:
Employee’s are bemoaning their lack of representation of their own faiths and believe that they are being excluded in the workplace by Christmas festivities. Therefore to avoid any difficulties and possible litigation many employers have banned Christmas decorations such as Christmas tree’s and tinsel from the workplace.
Christmas trees and decorations may well be a thing of the past in many workplaces this Christmas as political correctness culture has spread to the workplace. Although employers who are enforcing the ban are sceptical and dismayed by this trend, they feel that they have little choice in the matter due to the threat of litigation; as they have to protect themselves, their reputation and their livelihood.
Now I go into quite a lot of company offices in the course of my work. I don’t remember going into any offices in December 2006 and finding them without Chrismas decorations of some sort. It was the same last year and I have no doubt that, despite the economic downturn, the decorations, which are usually stored in a cupboard in the HR department, will be out again this year.
I would be interested to hear of any firms which did actually ban Christmas decorations for fear of litigation by disgruntled religious minorities. Just one case would do because I don’t know of any at all. I have asked around and no-one I have spoken to can come up with a specific example.
So how did Peninsula get its figure of 74%? Well Peninsula is a firm of employment lawyers. It is in the company’s interests to issue a survey that asks questions in a way that scares the hell out of people, so that they might seek advice on the issue. Furthermore, it offers insurance to clients against tribunal claims. If you were an HR manager filling this survey in for the firm that insured you, would you admit to doing something which might put you in breach of the law? Far better to play safe and say that you are going to ban Christmas decorations, then check the law out and, once you are satisfied, roll the decorations out as usual.
So if Peninsula’s 2006 survey was flakey, how reliable is their latest version? Having been duped into running a non-story two years ago, is it any wonder that the news media are not going anywhere near this one. The irony is that this time there is some corroborating evidence for Peninsula’s claims. A study by the IoD also found that employers are cutting back on Christmas celebrations. The lawyers’ magazine Legal Business noted a similar trend among law firms. Party organisers are reporting a wave of cancelled bookings and slimmed down events.
This time, the Peninsula survey gives a pretty fair indication of what is going on. Many firms are cancelling Christmas or, at least, having a Happy Shopper version instead of the usual lavish affair. Why has no-one printed Peninsula’s press release this year? Because, like the boy who cried ‘Wolf’, when you make spurious claims time after time, people stop listening to you.