Birthdays in the workplace
It only happens once a year and some people think it should be a federal holiday – no, not National Grilled Cheese Day – birthdays! While some employees could not care less about celebrating them in the workplace or any place else, others will pout all day if you ignore it. But what place do celebrations have in the workplace? Is it appropriate? A breach of privacy? A really good excuse to eat a lot of cake?
Here are a few steps to follow to make your office a happy birthday zone.
Step one: Gather the data.
In the hiring paperwork for new employees (NOT for potential employees – so not on an application!) include a quick questionnaire about birthdays, including questions like:
- Are you comfortable with the company acknowledging your birthday?
- If so, when is your birthday/birth month?
- Do you have any dessert preferences or food allergies?
These questions let you know up front whether an employee prefers to celebrate or not, as many people feel uncomfortable with the attention, and also make sure you are aware of any potential safety issues – marzipan cake isn’t great for those with nut allergies, it turns out. If an employee chooses not to acknowledge their birthday in the workplace, respect this decision. If you think it might just be shyness and disregard their wishes, you could run into religious discrimination claims as some religions forbid such celebrations.
Step two: Come up with a consistent practice.
Set a policy on how birthdays will be celebrated in the workplace. Here are a few options employers have used (keep in mind your company size when picking a policy):
- a personal treat and card on or near each employee’s birthday
- a cake for the whole office to share during break
- allowing the employee to decide where lunch should be purchased on their birthday
- a monthly celebration for all birthdays that month.
As with all things employment related, consistency is key. Celebrating one employee’s birthday more than another’s might lead to hurt feelings, awkward situations, and even discrimination suits.
Step three: Be careful of the language you use.
It may seem silly to some, but using language like “over the hill” or other age-related jokes could open an employer up for future discrimination charges. Acknowledging that an employee is older than the rest of the staff and suggesting that to be a negative can be used as evidence in a claim against you. Alternatively, an employer shouldn’t make observations about an employee being “fresh” or too young. In short, keep the age jokes out of it!
With these procedures in place, you’ll be able to have your cake, and your employees’ too.
Need a place to start?
Here is a sample policy you can adjust to suit your birthday practices.
SAMPLE BIRTHDAYS IN THE WORKPLACE POLICY
Company recognizes the importance of birthdays as a milestone in one’s life, and the interest of some of its employees in celebrating their co-workers’ birthdays. Company also recognizes, however, that some people do not wish to have their birthdays publicly celebrated. To balance these interests, Company introduces the following policy regarding birthdays in the workplace.
- Company will arrange and pay for a birthday party each month to celebrate the birthdays of those employees whose birthdays fall in that month. The party will occur at a time and date that is least disruptive to the company, at the Company’s discretion. Company will provide a cake, healthy snack options, and nonalcoholic beverages under a pre-set budget. The party is optional for all employees, and employees with birthdays who do not wish to participate are not obligated to attend. Employees who do not wish to be recognized at the monthly birthday party should request to have their name associated with the monthly birthday party, either by contacting their immediate supervisor or HR.
- Private, employee-organized birthday celebrations for individual employees may not occur on Company property or during working hours at any time. Employees are encouraged to be sensitive about excluding co-workers from private birthday celebrations. Expenditures for private birthday parties are considered to be of a personal nature and will not be reimbursed.
- Under no circumstances will Company, its HR staff or managers/supervisors reveal an employee’s age or birth date. Company expressly forbids employees from teasing co-workers or supervisors about their age at or near the time of an employee’s birthday or during the Company-sponsored monthly birthday celebration.
- Employees are encouraged to refrain from providing birthday cards with a religious, sexual, or other theme that may be offensive to the person receiving the birthday card. Remember: What may be humorous or well-intentioned to you may not be so well-received by another.