That's got to be one of my best headlines yet.

Anyway, I've received a copy of the Peninsula study mentioned in the Sun I talked about in 'Super soaraway Christmas ARSEPAPER!' - or at least, a copy of the press release that talks about it. Hurrah!

There's not a lot of information in it beyond the figures. I emailed to ask whether I could see the study that was sent to companies, and whether the 74% were of the total companies approached, or just the ones who said they'd banned Christmas decorations.

Apparently, the questions were asked in person and on the phone (which I think means there won't be a written version) and the questions as they appear on the press release are in the exact form they were asked. I have a couple of problems with this, but more on that later.

The 74% is of the total number of companies approached, and not a proportion of those who answered by saying they had banned Christmas decorations. So that clears that up. There are still problems with this figure though.

My problem with the question being asked in the exact form as they're written is partly because of the intro to the study, which says:
In a survey of over 2375 employers polled by Peninsula BusinessWise, the Employment Law Consultancy: 74% of employers said that they were banning Christmas decorations because of the repercussions it could have on their business, an increase of 3% on 2005: In comparison to an identical survey carried out by Peninsula in 2005 which polled 2138 employers. [Emphasis mine].
The question as it appears in the press release is:
Do you admit to banning Christmas decorations because you are worried about offending other faiths?
Nothing there about repurcussions on the companies' business. So where does the bit in the intro come from? The figures are exactly the same, so there was either a separate question that returned back the exact number as the question about offending people in both years, the sentence in the intro is an inference taken from the actual question or there is some kind of preamble not quoted on the press release.

In any case, we could quite easily be talking here about sompanies not having decorations because they're afraid they'll lose business. Not because they might face legal action.

Think for a minute about the Lancet study on excess deaths in Iraq since the start of the 2003 war. Whether you support it or not, you can see that the questions asked were about numbers, things that are quantifiable. It isn't easy to ask a question about the number of dead people in such a way as to get a different number from your interviewee. Someone's dead or they're not. The Lancet study apparently got death certificates for over 90% of the people mentioned. But it is possible to lead into a question about someone's reasons for doing something with different information - like something concerning Christmas decorations' effect on business before asking about offending other faiths. Of course, this might not have happened at all - but it adds a bit of doubt to either the outcome of the answer or the claim in the intro about the effect on business.

Beyond this, there are other problems with this question. It is not clear that respondents are being asked specifically about this year, and the question could be referring to a ban on one type of decoration or another rather than all decorations. So people could have answered yes to that question because they banned a nativity scene in 1987. Not because they've totally banned all Christmas decorations this year.

There are other questions included in the press release that also create problems with the first one. They are:
Do you believe that Christmas decorations make the workplace look unprofessional?
To which 47% said yes, and:
Do you believe that Christmas decorations have a negative impact on productivity?
To which 41% said yes. So things are a little less simple than they at first appear. Most obviously, this is because a large chunk of the 74% - up to over half of them - also thought Christmas decorations look unprofessional and have a negative impact on productivity. It isn't a cut and dried, 'I was afraid of offending other faiths so I banned them.'

Now, role play time. Imagine you are a company director who thinks Christmas decorations look unprofessional and make your employees lazy and negatively affect the amount of money they're making for you, what with all that being cheery. Do you:

A) Ban them, and say honestly why - thus making yourself look like a latter day Scrooge?

B) Ban them, and say it's because you don't want to offend people of other faiths, thus making yourself look like a victim and another group of people look like the Scrooges?

Even if you answered A, there are a lot of bosses here whose decision was a far more complex one than the article - and the press release - implies. Funny how these questions got left out of the Sun's coverage.

There are more problems with the survey itself:

  • We don't know how random the sample is. These could all be companies located in areas with a high number of ethnic minority residents. That doesn't necessarily excuse the bosses or mean that they're right, but it would make them more likely to worry about other faiths.
  • We don't know what kinds of businesses they are. In the story, the picture of the Sun office included in the report, and the references to employment law (not to mention the fact that this study has been done by an employment law consultancy) give the impression that it's employees who bosses fear might be offended. But as the intro mentions repurcussions on business, it seems that some of these companies are worried about offending customers. This would be especially true if they're located in an area where they might expect a large number of their customers to be from other faiths. Again, it doesn't excuse the bosses or make them right.
  • We don't know how many of the companies are clients of Peninsula. A company that approaches an employment law consultancy for advice on what to do about Christmas decorations are far more likely to have banned Christmas decorations at some point because they thought they'd get in trouble than some random company.
There is one other question in this study - and I've saved it till last because I have a massive, massive problem with it. It says:
Are you aware of your legal requirements to celebrate all faiths?
Which gives the impression that employers have legal requirements to celebrate all faiths. They don't. Via the national Secular Society website's coverage of this issue, 'Claims That Christmas Has Been Banned by Employers are Exaggerated and Misleading', I see that Acas says:
ACAS guidance on the Employment Regulations says on religious observance in the workplace: “4.1 The Regulations do not say that employers must provide time and facilities for religious or belief observance in the workplace.”
The full Acas report on religion is here.

I only just discovered this detail after typing all the above, but just think about that. This definitely indicates that this study should be treated with extreme caution. It's like I said in 'Christmas ARSEPAPER!' Are we really to expect that an employment law consultancy doesn't have a vested interest in making the danger of legal action seem imminent and high enough for a company to need - an employment law consultancy? Especially when they ask as part of their survey whether employers are aware of their requirements to celebrate other faiths - when in fact they have none, or at least very few.

Unsurprisingly, I have a problem with the rest of the blurb in the release. It says:
The workplace is now the latest in an increasing number of places affected by the wave of political correctness being imposed on festive traditions. This comes after a number of local councils across the UK banned Christmas decorations and traditional festive activities in shopping centres, streets and public areas.
Name one. The best the Daily Mail could come up with was one that changed the name once in 1998 and don't do it anymore, and one who tried to change the name of Christmas decorations, but actually didn't. Five years ago. So name one of the 'number of councils'.

It also says:
Bosses are now taking similar action to ease fears of offending other faiths and excluding minorities. Some employers even believe that such festivities have a negative impact on the productivity of their staff.
The second is unconnected from the first - and the first could easily be a cover for bosses who really believe the second.

Employee’s are bemoaning their lack of representation of their own faiths and believe that they are being excluded in the workplace by Christmas festivities. Therefore to avoid any difficulties and possible litigation many employers have banned Christmas decorations such as Christmas tree’s and tinsel from the workplace.
Never mind the dodgy apostrophes - where are these employees bemoaning their lack of representation? And name some employers who really have banned Christmas trees or tinsel so as not to offend other faiths. And please show where it says that this is necessary.

Every employee has the right to celebrate their faith’s festival in the workplace if they desire to, and if an employer is unaware or refuses to acknowledge this, they may well be liable to litigation.
That Acas quote again:
The Regulations do not say that employers must provide time and facilities for religious or belief observance in the workplace.
And Acas also says:
Many religions or beliefs have special festival or spiritual observance days. A worker may request holiday in order to celebrate festivals or attend ceremonies. An employer should sympathetically consider such a request where it is reasonable and practical for the employee to be away from work, and they have sufficient holiday entitlement in hand.
Note the reasonable and practical.

And just think for a second. If bosses have a requirement to celebrate their employees' religious festival in the workplace, aren't employers breaking the law by banning Christmas celebrations? Clearly not. So this sentence seems just a little overstated doesn't it?

If they can outright say something like this, can we really trust the rest of the study?

Christmas trees and decorations may well be a thing of the past in many workplaces this Christmas as political correctness culture has spread to the workplace. Although employers who are enforcing the ban are sceptical and dismayed by this trend, they feel that they have little choice in the matter due to the threat of litigation; as they have to protect themselves, their reputation and their livelihood.
I'm saying it again, fuck it. If employers have a legal requirement to celebrate their employees' religious festivals, then they're breaking the law by banning Christmas decorations. But as Acas said, "The Regulations do not say that employers must provide time and facilities for religious or belief observance in the workplace."

Finally, the important thing to remember is that even if 74% of employers have banned all Christmas decorations this year because of offending other faiths, then they're being bloody stupid! There's a massive Christmas tree outside the Houses of Parliament! I've been in Parliament at Christmas, there are decorations all over the shop! If it was illegal to display Christmas trees and decorations, Parliament would know about it, you fucking oafs! They actually, you know, write the law.

As opposed to consult about it. For a fee. To companies who might be worried about being sued because they've read a shocking study that suggests they might. That you produced in the first place.


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