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Staff member cannot participate in Christmas activities


Dennie
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As a setting we have always celebrated a number of festivals throughout the year, including Christmas, Diwali, Chinese New Year, etc. A new staff member has now said that she cannot participate in any Christmas activities. We are unsure how this may affect our celebration of any other religious festivals over the coming months and whether she will also choose to withdraw from these.

 

Obviously we want to be inclusive and include all festivals, including Christianity, but we also want this staff member to feel valued and part of our team. This is obviously a very sensitive situation, as we like to do winter activities with the children, but wonder how we can reorganise the duties of the staff member so that all the children are supported and she feels supported in her beliefs too.

 

Has anyone had a similar request to withdraw from festivals and if so, how did you manage the situation for the children and remaining staff members? We don't have the luxury of drawing on additional staff and are a small setting.

 

Thanks in advance

 

Dennie

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I worked for many years with a Jehovah's Witness and really it wasnt an issue. We talked about what she could and couldn't do, and what she would do instead. Nursery life was never just about Christmas or Eid or whatever, so there were always other activities she would support, and there were often opportunities to work with smaller groups on festival unrelated things. She wouldn't involve herself in the nativity but she would help get children dressed, and talk to parents. We were a team of 4 so not huge but we seemed to manage.

The main thing is to have a conversation about what she can do, how she can still feel included and also how you cover statutory ratios etc, then agree how you move forward.

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Hi, not sure i can help much but didn't want to read and run. It is a very tricky one. I think i would be asking the new staff member what they are willing to do in relation to all of the celebrations you do, and maybe come to an agreement. When they say they can not take part in activities, what exactly do they mean? does this include craft activities as well or things like christmas songs, nativity play? Maybe i'm being a bit pig headed but i thought that part of the fundamental british values that we are meant to instilling into everything, was about tolerance for others, and to me, this means accepting others beliefs, that goes for you accepting hers and her accepting the children's. As you say, you celebrate a lot of religious festivals and this could impact quite a few things. I'm sure the rest of the staff don't believe in all of the religions but they still get children to participate in them to help them grow and learn about the wider world. To me, it's part of the job, when i worked in a school, we had to teach about different religions and their beliefs, going on visits to different places of worship, it wasn't my belief but i still had to do it as part of the job, and do it with a smile on my face.

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Great advice from mundia - I know that I could quite easily cope with this - there are so many other areas where this staff member could offer support to the children :1b

 

I almost always have a least one child from a JW family in my group and manage quite well to not involve them in anything 'Christmassy' - probably helped by the fact that we continue with everything else and don't get overly 'consumed' in Christmas activities :1b

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Hi Dennie

 

I quite understand how this must make things difficult for you in a small team, however the advice you have been offered is very good.

I think it's important not to get too ravelled up in 'PC' considerations - you have only to look at how things get blown up in the press and on the internet. That way lies discord and more trouble than is justified!

 

I'm sure you will reach a satisfactory arrangement for all.

 

Sue

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Thank you everyone for your replies and advice. We do now have a list of what the staff member is not prepared to do. We are keeping things low key and just ensuring the children are happy and the staff member feels comfortable. As people have said, there are lots of other daily things going on that she can participate in or supervise. Christmas does not dominate everything. A bank staff member is going to help on the day of our play, as the practitioner doesn't feel she can supervise children or dress them in costumes for our show and we have re-assigned her hours for later in the week. We've been very understanding and will deal with the issue of additional festivals and how she is able to teach about these, if the situation arises next year.

 

Thanks once again

 

Dennie

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well done ..im not sure I would have been so understanding! If its part of the job and she knew it ???? If she was working in a shop would she have refused to sell a Christmas magazine?

anyway glad you've got it sorted!! perhaps my answers not very PC ..ive had a long day

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I must say, I was just about to say how understanding you were being etc, etc when I saw finleysmaid's reply.

 

I wonder what she would have done working elsewhere- presumably she could not work in retail at all or even in an office- as majority of offices do celebrate Christmas in some form or another.

 

Surely she must have realised that this job would entail at least some form of Christmas celebration if not other festivals or is it just Christmas she is objecting to?

 

You are far better/nicer than me! As understanding as I would like to think I am, I'm afraid she would get very short shrift in my setting- I think I would have a riot on my hands from other staff as well.

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Thing is, religion is a protected characteristic under the Equality act and as such insisting that a person has to do certain things that are against their beliefs could be seen as indirect discrimination. If you were taken to court, you could claim 'objective justification' however you would have to demonstrate that there was no alternatives, which as we have shown above, there clearly are. Accommodation for religious, and other beliefs are made all the time, by many nurseries and pre schools. It would be no different if you had to make reasonable adjustments for a staff member with a disability.

 

I would not be suggesting to anyone that they disregard others' religious (or in fact other beliefs), and you must show that you have worked to find a solution, in the event that someone did claim religious discrimination.

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Gosh you lot are really understanding. Um, just a thought but are staff not expected to encourage and celebrate British values? Surely this means tolerance and understanding of all faiths and Christmas is a traditional celebration. Not sure I would be as understanding.

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Thing is, religion is a protected characteristic under the Equality act and as such insisting that a person has to do certain things that are against their beliefs could be seen as indirect discrimination. If you were taken to court, you could claim 'objective justification' however you would have to demonstrate that there was no alternatives, which as we have shown above, there clearly are. Accommodation for religious, and other beliefs are made all the time, by many nurseries and pre schools. It would be no different if you had to make reasonable adjustments for a staff member with a disability.

 

I would not be suggesting to anyone that they disregard others' religious (or in fact other beliefs), and you must show that you have worked to find a solution, in the event that someone did claim religious discrimination.

I am aware of the implications of law and my previous reply was a bit flippant but this lady knew what was expected of her on taking the job I assume and therefore she has accepted the needs of the business. This is exactly the same as a shop assistant selling meat that does not comply with their religion etc. or selling alcohol. If all staff are treated equally and expected to do the same jobs then this is not discrimination. If joining in with celebrations is in her job description then it is unlikely that she will have any legal come back on this. This is opening a can of worms with the other staff and makes me nervous....why should this lady's religion impact on the whole business and indeed on the learning and understanding of the pupils?

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Quote....

An employer does not have to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs or practices if doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer. An accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work.

 

 

Interesting conversation.....always tricky to have these chats. The advantage of the forum is being able to discuss these ideas without fear of reprisal . I am not trying to stir up a hornets nest!

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This is an interesting thread! I have to say that I hadn't given any thought to this situation arising in my setting. It would be SO difficult to avoid Christmas activities at this time of year as the children are so excited and it is brought into every aspect of their continuous provision by themselves. Does this mean that the staff member in question would not be drawn into their key children's play or able to support them in extending it? We celebrate Diwali and Eid and none of our staff members have any affiliation with the associated religions but I would fully expect them to help the children learn about them and join in with our celebrations. Maybe this is something that needs to be brought up at the interview stage?

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This is indeed an interesting thread :1b

 

Always good to read others points of view, however, I am sticking with my first response - I would and could find this staff member plenty of other areas in which she could support the children without compromising her beliefs.......

 

That said - I think her stance on not helping to dress the children for the nativity is taking things a step too far :blink: I don't think that I could go along with that one :ph34r:

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Whilst an employer does not HAVE to accommodate religious beliefs, it should make attempts to wherever possible, and it would be very difficult to demonstrate 'undue hardship' when the staff member can quite easily engage in other activities that still fulfil their job description. Surely it is the best interests of everyone to have a frank and open conversation with your staff member otherwise how do you show respect and tolerance of their religious views? I've worked with many people over the years who hold religious views that are accommodated in the workplace and have never ever had any problem with coming to a solution that suits everyone.

 

It is one of those issues where there is potentially a conflict. On the one hand tolerance and respect for the religious views of parents and children, but on the other equal tolerance and respect for the staff views and beliefs. And how do you accommodate both? But that is the nature of dicussion, I would always argue that an opportunity to unpick this type of example in a staff meeting is great for reflecting on practice. It should include the 'difficult' things, (in my humble anyway).

 

Anyway, you all know I love a good debate!

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This conversation leaves me thinking what would happen with a class teacher in school teaching RE...surely they just can't chose not to teach these lessons...or science because they don't believe in the big bang....or the 2nd world war because they believe in Judaism?

And is it fair to exclude the children from celebrating Christmas because one person doesn't believe in it?

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I can only really repeat what others have said; open discussions with the staff member and inclusive discussions with the whole team, so that everything is aired properly. As Sunnyday said, there are lots of things that this staff member can be doing that don't involve Christmas, activities that we do at this time of year, that revolve more around preparations for the new year, calendars, for example. It's helpful, I found, to have a staff member that isn't too caught up in the glitter and 'madness' of the season, who can keep activities running calmly and give a sense of normalcy to the session. They are the ones who build towers and railway lines, who sit in the home corner and extend play, who help a child struggling with scissors, who chat to a child who is painting and refil the paintpots and source more paper. Keep it light and accepting, keep it friendly and open.

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Yes, Cait what you say makes perfect sense and all that (as indeed it should) goes on as well in our setting as I'm sure it does in vast majority of others. However I really and truly cannot think why anyone would work in a preschool and then say they object to participating in ANY festival.

 

I am Manager of an RC group- not much different to any other group, we say a prayer at the end of the session, probably celebrate Christmas a little more in the 'true' sense (sorry I dont mean that to sound patronising) and Easter. But we also celebrate and talk about other religious festivals and I would expect all my staff to do so.

 

Yes keep it light and accepting, keep it friendly and open but it is hardly being that when you say I cannot participate in Christmas activities to the point of not getting the children dressed for a Nativity.

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Yes keep it light and accepting, keep it friendly and open but it is hardly being that when you say I cannot participate in Christmas activities to the point of not getting the children dressed for a Nativity.

 

 

I may be asking her to justify her reasoning for that, at least I would be asking her to help at the nativity in other ways, meet and greet perhaps.

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I, too, would have to ask for some justification for being unable to supervise the children or help them get dressed.

I would completely understand if someone would prefer not to sing the carols, read Christmassy stories, explain the nativity, participate in prayers, decorate the tree, etc. These are activities that actively involved in celebrating and educating children about Christmas.

However, supervising children isn't celebrating Christmas. It requires no discussion about Christmas at all, as does putting chairs out, seating parents, making coffees, manning doorways, or a myriad other jobs that need doing in a normal day or when parents are in the setting.

I do get that everyone's beliefs should be respected but I think it would take quite a lot of explaining for me to accept that you can't expect someone to supervise a group of children who are waiting to participate in a performance without impinging on their religious principles.

 


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This thread made me think a lot yesterday and I took a little time to observe the group as a whole at play. In the various areas of provision, children were bringing Christmas into their play.

 

One child who is very quiet and even her key person finds it very difficult to draw her out, was playing with the little knitted nativity scene. Her key person was beaming and discreetly gestured for me to come over and listen. The little girl was re-telling the Christmas story to her and involving her in the play.

The children sitting cutting were talking about their memories of last Christmas with the adult supervising. Home corner had been turned into Santa's workshop and children were 'wrapping' presents in pieces of material.

 

Part of being a key person is surely promoting children's home culture as well as teaching them to respect others and certainly it is being able to observe and move children onto their next steps following their interests. How many opportunities would be lost by a staff member who was not willing to take any part in celebrating with a child in something they become engrossed, engaged and delighted by? Christmas takes over a good part of the half term which is a long time in terms of a child's development.

Edited by gillpen
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