Carefully Consider Holiday Displays and Events
With the holiday season approaching, you and your management staff may have talked about putting up themed displays or decorations, or hosting a community-wide holiday event to celebrate. But tread lightly when it comes to what types of displays or parties you should install or host—it could land you in trouble if members perceive that you’ve discriminated against any based on their religion.
“Holiday decorations and activities are often arranged by management, with the obvious aim of augmenting the sense of community and overall quality of life,” says Massachusetts attorney V. Douglas Errico. “While those are noble goals, they can sometimes backfire,” he warns.
So what should you do? “The safest and most conservative course of action, of course, is for the association to do nothing at all in the way of decorations, lest some individual or group be offended or otherwise critical of whatever is done,” notes Errico. “If that approach is not possible, then hot-button issues like religion should be avoided,” he says. Here are some of his suggestions that managers should take into account when planning displays or celebrations:
- Keep the focus on fall-themed or winter-themed items, rather than items associated with particular religious holidays;
- “Keep decorative items modest and understated, rather than large and grandiose,” says Errico. In other words, if you are trying to keep individual residents from displaying over-the-top items, the association should not do it either, he points out.
- Consider appointing a committee of residents to recommend decorations. The board could retain the power of final approval, but a committee like this might minimize the chances of criticism of whatever is done, Errico says.
- If the association sponsors a party, all of the above considerations should be factored in (no religious themes or symbols, safety, etc.).
- As always, safety and liability are also a concern. Perhaps electric-powered displays or anything else that might be a fire hazard should be avoided, Errico says. “Also, there is the obvious liability risk if alcohol and/or drugs are present, even if neither the board nor management has allowed them,” he stresses.
For more on avoiding religious discrimination claims during the holidays, see our December 2013 feature, “Follow FHA When Fostering Holiday Spirit in Community.”
V. Douglas Errico, Esq.: Marcus, Errico, Emmer & Brooks, P.C.; www.meeb.com