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Employer Justified in Terminating Employees Who Hosted Christmas Party During COVID-19

    Client Alerts
  • October 21, 2022

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers were understandably concerned that regardless of the measures taken to prevent workplace infections, employees could still place co-workers and third parties in danger based on their activities outside of work. Earlier this month, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected religious discrimination claims relating to a Christmas party hosted by two employees of a home healthcare agency in 2020.

In Dahlquist v. Amedisys, Inc., the plaintiffs threw the party for co-workers despite company policy intended to minimize the risk of infection of employees and patients. The plaintiffs sued, alleging that the party was part of their sincerely held religious beliefs. As evidence of the employer’s intent to discriminate based on religion, the plaintiffs noted that none of the other employees who attended the party were terminated.

The Sixth Circuit had little trouble rejecting these claims, affirming dismissal of the claim. The court noted that there was no evidence that the company acted based on more than the risk of COVID-19 infection. The employer could reasonably conclude that the party hosts had more culpability than the other attendees. This case demonstrates that employers have some ability to regulate employees’ off-duty behavior, especially where the company can demonstrate clear business reasons for their behavior policies.