It's just as important to be consistent! If you forget someone’s birthday, or have different types of celebrations based on how much time or money is spent, then it's likely to hurt morale. And whatever you do, never mention the person’s age or year they were born! Making fun of an employee – even jokingly – for being “old” or “over the hill,” or having party favors that emphasize a person’s age, should be heavily discouraged. Also discouraged is the practice of pressuring employees to contribute to a gift or attend a party.
Next are cultural issues and issues of preference. Some people enjoy celebrating their birthday, but only on the exact day or after and believe that any celebration beforehand is bad luck. Furthermore, a person may be fine if his or her department is aware of their birthday, but they do not want it broadcast company-wide, or worse, on the company’s Web or social media sites.
There are also legal issues of religious tolerance. Some religions (e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses) don’t celebrate birthdays. Not only does this pertain to the employee’s own birthday, but it also covers requiring them to participate in the birthday celebrations of others.
Last, a birthday celebration could come under scrutiny of the Fair Labor Standards Act. For example, if the department head organizes a lunch party, it could last two or more hours. Yet an hourly employee who was either asked, pressured, or forced to go may only be able to claim his or her standard 30 minutes for lunch since this wasn’t an “official” work function. This would force that employee to work overtime to make up the difference.
So now let’s say that you’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s when it comes to birthday celebrations at your company. What are some ways to recognize an employee without crossing the line? A simple birthday card, whether paper or electronic, is often an easy and thoughtful way to let the employee know that others are wishing him or her well. The aforementioned staff lunch is also good, provided that any pitfalls of recording time worked or making it mandatory are avoided. Gift cards, cash, a paid day off, or a contribution to the person’s charity of choice are also good ideas as long as it’s the same for everyone regardless of where they are on the corporate ladder. In the end, a mass celebration every month that acknowledges everyone who has a birthday that month (as long as each individual is okay with being recognized) may be the safest option.
Whether a company chooses to celebrate birthdays or not is up to its HR managers, but a fair and equitable policy should at least be in place. Now, would someone please cut the cake? After reading this I’m starving!