Food and Drink
What should we do about food labelling and whether food is kosher, halal etc? Is it our fault when we are told that something is halal, and we find out later that it contains alcohol?
What the employer did:
The employer worked with catering suppliers on an ongoing basis to educate them about the need to provide food for people with different beliefs/allergies etc. and to clearly label food appropriately.
There has been substantial customer-driven pressure on the food industry and retailers to provide clearer and more accurate food labelling, driven by ethical and environmental concerns and the extension of discrimination law to goods & services. Employers should make clear contractual arrangements with their suppliers if they are providing food which claims to be religiously correct e.g. Kosher or Halal.
However, even if strict liability for non-compliance rests with the supplier, it should be borne in mind that it's likely to be the employer who is first in the firing line for complaints. So it is worth investing time and effort into ensuring your suppliers are clear on your position and requirements. In some cases it may be more sensible to offer alternative foods such as vegetarian options, which have a wide appeal to a range of groups, rather than seeking to accommodate the specific dietary strictures of a number of different religious groups.
What do we do about employees who believe the provision of alcohol is inappropriate at Christmas parties?
Abstention from alcohol is fundamental within a number of major religions, including Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism and the Baha'i faith. Moderation in consumption is implicit in others, and within the Christian church attitudes change over time (nineteenth century Methodists were closely linked with the Temperance movement).
Many organisations today operate normal day to day prohibitions on employees using alcohol on company premises or while on duty, sometimes based on concerns over safety. However, these restrictions rarely apply to corporate events such as Christmas parties, although those attending are often reminded that drunken behaviour remains unacceptable and that breaches of company standards (e.g. harassment) will be treated seriously. In practice, vigilance is required to ensure that (a minority of) employees do not go beyond reasonable standards.
In addition, and to foster inclusiveness, in organising work based (or work related) events employers should as a matter of course ensure that non-alcoholic drinks are provided.
If certain employees still feel that the serving of alcohol to others means that they are unable to attend then the employer should regard this as a matter of conscience and may therefore decide to take no further steps. Some employers may wish to explore the provision of separate 'wet' and 'dry' areas to encourage attendance, although this solution could undermine the inclusiveness aims of the event.