Career & Education

Do I have to go to the office Christmas party?

Career Advisor

Carolyn Marie Smith

Sunday, December 24, 2017

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Dear Career Advisor:

Do I have to continue to attend Christmas parties at my workplace? And could I be penalised for not attending?

Typically, I don't mind going to gatherings and work-related events, however, I am not religious and I don't celebrate Christmas. What irks me is that they call the activity an end of year treat, yet every year it morphs into a party with religious overtones, Santa Claus, the whole works. What makes it even more perplexing is that my managers say they don't believe in Christmas and argue all year round against it yet everyone gets silly for the party. I have received comments about being anti-social as well as reproachful glances and I fear that I might be unfairly judged if I stay away.

Yours truly,

Phillip T

Dear Phillip:

Your discomfiture with the religious or secular overtones of year-end office events is understandable.

You should not be forced to attend, nor should you be penalised for not attending and participating in religious exercises as your employer could be cited for religious discrimination. However, you would be hard-pressed to prove that the year-end party or get-together is a religious event.

Typically, it will not be perceived as unreasonable if you are expected to attend the office party, especially if the event is being held during work hours. You would be expected to attend as you would any other work-related event even if the event is held outside of the normal working hours, especially if you are performing a management role or you are an aspirant for management. Many employers use these holiday events as the primary attempt at showing generosity and, valid or otherwise, as their primary method of building morale and camaraderie. Your refusal to attend could be interpreted as anti-social or uncooperative.

We, therefore, recommend that you continue to attend but with a change of approach. Consider using these game-changing strategies:

• Volunteer to lead or serve as a member of the team that plans the event. By so doing you can use your influence to include more creative activities that are devoid of the religious or secular overtures.

• If there are other coworkers who are also uncomfortable with the nature of the event and in particular the Christmas motif, you could collectively lobby for change. For example, suggest a change in the time of year that the event is hosted.

• Have a discussion with your manager highlighting your concerns and offer suggestions as to how the event could be planned to accommodate other preferences.

Since it does not appear that you are opposed to the intent of the event, you and your employer can find common ground for how it is executed.

All the best.


Career Advisor

Carolyn Marie Smith is associate vice-president of student services at Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville, Manchester. Submit your questions to her at




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