columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

My employer is asking all of us to decorate our offices or work areas for Christmas this year. The decorations are provided, and she thinks it will brighten up the office. I work as an administrative assistant in the front of the office. Because of some difficult personal reasons, I will not be celebrating Christmas this year, and, honestly, the sight of anything holiday-related makes me sad. Would I be out of line if I refused to put up decorations?

Green responds:

If you wanted to refuse to decorate your own personal workspace on religious grounds (such as being of a different faith or belonging to a branch of Christianity that finds Santa frivolous or counter to the true meaning of the holiday, or so forth), you'd be well within your rights to decline to participate on those grounds. Federal law requires employers to make "reasonable accommodations" on religious grounds (including lack of religious faith) as long as it doesn't cause them undue hardship, and having you opt out from decorating your work area certainly wouldn't cause your employer hardship.

However, it doesn't sound like your objections are religious in nature, and because it sounds like your desk is in the reception area, it's a little different anyway. It's reasonable for a business to decide it wants to decorate its front office for the holidays, and ultimately that area isn't just your workspace -- it's also the company's reception area where it greets visitors.

That means that it's possible that the company's going to hold firm on its holiday decorating plans. But you can certainly float the idea of opting out by saying something like, "I'm not participating in the holidays this year for personal reasons. Would you mind if I didn't put up decorations in my area?" That might take care of it! But it's also possible that even a reasonable manager could reply to that with, "It's fine to keep the decorations out of your immediate desk area, but we do want to decorate the reception area where you're located." If that's the response, there's not a lot you can do at that point, particularly not without pushing the issue further than will appear reasonable.

However, if that happens, are there decorations that might feel less Christmasy and therefore more workable to you? For example, could you go for more of a winter theme -- snowflakes, greenery, and so forth? Or arrange them so that you won't have to look at them all day long? Or even see if someone else will volunteer to do the decorating so that you're not actively participating in it? There might be compromises here that will feel more livable to you.

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