Office Decorations Policy
Author: Jessica Sussman
When to Use
Decorations in the workplace may lead to a variety of issues for employers. Employers must balance the employee right to personal expression with the employer's need to create a professional atmosphere which enables productivity and does not offend other employees. Religious issues and safety issues are perhaps an employer's greatest risk from office decorations. Employers must consider whether or not the decorations are considered offensive to employees who are not of the same religion. Since employees do not have an absolute right to engage in religious expression in the workplace, employers may set reasonable restrictions on the employee right to decorate their work spaces with respect to size, location and manner of expression.
Additional issues, including claims of harassment may arise based on unrestricted office decorations. Displaying suggestive pictures or photographs may lead to claims of sexual harassment. For these reasons, employers are well advised to have a policy regarding office decorations that balances employee rights of self expression, while protecting the employer from claims of discrimination or harassment.
Office Decorations Policy
- Purpose - [Enter Employee Name] believes that office decorations should accentuate a professional and pleasant work environment, rather than inhibit the workplace. Office decorations should not pose potential safety hazards. Employees must respect the religious and personal beliefs of other employees when considering seasonal decorating, both in public areas and in their own workspaces.
- Employer-Provided Decorations - [Enter Employee Name] will provide appropriate seasonal decorations, such as flowers or greenery, for public or group work areas. Decorations will be tasteful and limited as well as appropriate to office décor. [Enter Employee Name] will avoid decorations that would be more likely to be viewed as religious in nature, instead attempting to choose decorations that reflect secular traditions.
- Decorations in Employee Workspaces - Employees may apply similar principles in decorating personal workspaces such as cubicles or offices, and will be asked to remove any decorations that are inconsistent with this policy.
- Secular Decorations - Employees who come from cultures that celebrate secular holidays for which decorating may be appropriate are welcome to share their traditions in the workplace as long as they are consistent with this policy.
- Right of Employer to Request Removal of Decorations - Any decorations that are viewed as offensive by reasonable standards or objects that cause safety concerns may be required to be removed the offending objects.
- Working Environment - Employees are asked to remain focused on maintaining an environment of professionalism and respect for others throughout the year.
- Questions - Questions regarding this policy should be directed to a manager, supervisor or HR.
Employers should be extremely conscious of religious expression issues in the workplace as they can lead to questions of religious accommodation, in addition to claims of disparate treatment or harassment. Employees may request an accommodation to permit religious expression in the form of decorations. In determining whether to permit an employee to display a religious decoration the employer must determine whether the display poses an undue hardship, considering the potential disruption resulting from this expression. Decorations may constitute an undue hardship if the decorations disrupt other employees or constitute harassment.
In order to boost employee morale, and set a tasteful example for employees, employers may choose to decorate common areas of the office for the holidays. While employers may put up their own decorations for the holidays, a problem issue may arise if employees perceive the decorations to be favoring a certain religion. Further, if employers do decorate for the holidays, employers may also want to consider decorating the workplace during non-religious holidays to lessen the appearance of a religious presence in the workplace
In addition to an effective decorations policy, employers should be sure to periodically inspect employee work stations to be sure employees have not posted sexually offensive materials that could lead to claims of harassment. Employees should be trained on what materials may constitute sexual harassment.
Employers should generally not ban all employee decorations. An employer risks discrimination claims if an employer tries to avoid potential co-worker objections to religious expression by preemptively banning all religious communications in the workplace since Title VII requires that employer's accommodate an employee's sincerely held religious beliefs and practices as long as there is no undue hardship. Additionally, employers who ban all religious expression may encounter employee relations concerns especially during the holiday season, as this may impact employee morale.
Employers must keep in mind treating expressions related to religious beliefs, including decorations, differently than non-religious expression is prohibited by law. If the employer permits employees to decorate their work spaces with pictures or decorations, it may be considered discriminatory to ban decorations that are religious. Additionally, employers cannot treat similar types of religious expression differently because they relate to different religions.