June 12th, 2018
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:
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):
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.
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.