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Decorating Your Firm for the Holidays, Without Offending Anyone

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 02, 2016 12:58 PM

'Tis the season, as they say. The halls are decked, gay apparel is donned, and chestnuts are roasting. But for all the winter mirth and merriment, the season can also be a contentious one. Think, for example, of the annual fights over saying "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Kwanza," and the yearly fury that surrounds Starbucks holiday cups.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't bring some holiday cheer into your law office. You should! But here are some tips to help you do it without leaving anyone feeling excluded, offended, or even litigious.

Keeping It Subtle and Classy

When it comes to in-office decorations, it's best to take a subtle approach. So if you were planning to pair a full Christmas tree with a menorah alongside a Festivus pole and the latest edition of Richard Dawkins' book, well -- maybe pull back a bit.

You don't want your office to look like the Sugar Plum Fairy exploded all over the place, for a couple of reasons. First, this is a serious place. Your clients have consequential, sometimes traumatic issues they need your help with. It's probably not appropriate to have, say, an animatronic Santa Claus rubbing his belly in the background while someone explains her painful divorce. Secondly, many holiday displays are religious in nature. If your clients aren't religious, they could be alienated by such displays. If they are very religious, they could be offended by secular ones. It's often easiest to avoid the issue by downplaying holiday décor.

Keep it simple. Maybe throw up a wreath, a few cards, and a poinsettia or two.

Remember, You're an Employer Too

Unless you're entirely solo, you should also consider the type of environment your decorations create for your employees, before you have yourself a merry little employment discrimination lawsuit on your hands.

There are, of course, no laws that we know of against holiday displays in the workplace. But, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prevents private businesses from discriminating on the basis of religion, including through the creation of a hostile work environment. Your crèche scene probably won't cause that on its own, but it could be the trigger for other conduct, like unwelcome proselytizing, that is questionable in the workplace.

And while we're discussing potential lawsuits, please, don't hang any mistletoe. Just don't.

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