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Should employers announce or post employee birthdays?

Recognizing employee birthdays can be a low-cost yet personal and special way to recognize employees. It can also be a means to upset employees or lead to allegations of unlawful discrimination if not handled correctly.

Various approaches are used by employers to acknowledge employee birthdays: e-mails are sent out, cakes are bought, birthdays are listed in the company’s newsletters or intranets, and lunches are planned. To make sure this seemingly harmless act of celebration and recognition is not misused, employers should consider the following:

  • Is this a misuse of the HR files and information? Even though not unlawful, some employees may feel that announcing their birthday is a violation of their privacy when this information is taken from their employee records. To smooth over this potential employee relations issue, an employee’s birthday information should not be used without the employee’s permission. Ask new hires if they would like to participate in the acknowledgement and celebration of their birthdays, and communicate this preference to their manager. If announcements and celebrations are handled on a department level only, require all managers to ask new hires for their preferences and to abide by it.
  • Are birthday celebrations at odds with an employee’s religious or personal beliefs? Some religions prohibit the celebration of holidays and other events, including birthdays. Without the above-mentioned procedure, employers could inadvertently be violating an employee’s beliefs, and, if the employee does not feel comfortable in declining participation, it could potentially lead to a religious discrimination issue, or at least the perception of one to the employee.
  • Can all employees afford to pitch in for cakes and gifts? While a true recognition effort would be funded by the employer, many departments ask department members to contribute. Once again, an HR procedure that establishes an employee’s preference on whether to participate can avoid an uncomfortable situation for employees with tight budgets and can help ensure managers will not hold a lack of participation against any employee.
  • Have you ensured only the birth day and/or month is used? While HR should certainly be aware that the year of birth should never be shared, many managers may not realize that this could lead to age discrimination issues. HR should ensure managers understand this easily missed detail and never mention the employee’s actual age on announcements or have it iced onto cakes. Turning 40 may be a milestone, but it’s also coverage under the ADEA, so highlighting age in an employment setting may not be in the employer’s best interests. Don’t forget about identity theft either—a date of birth is a key component of identity theft success. So, while limiting any references to age is important, considering monthly birthday celebrations with no days mentioned may be a smart idea.

Office celebrations can be a great way to acknowledge and celebrate employees if done with respect and professionalism. Even when handling something as simple as a birthday announcement, whenever dealing with personal employee information, never assume and always ask before releasing it to others.


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