Q: I work in an office with five support staffers including me, and four managers. We have a long-held tradition of acknowledging birthdays with a small celebration in the office including cake and a gift. One of the support staff joined us only recently and we learned that her religion prevents her from celebrating birthdays. She asked us to not acknowledge her birthday nor invite her to our birthday celebrations; she said she would not be offended. I feel it will be awkward with her right in the office while we are making merry celebrating in the conference room. In addition, she does not know when the birthdays fall and consequently it is always a surprise to her. In the past we all joined in on the celebrations and collaborated if the phone rang or a visitor came during the short celebration. How do we best handle this situation?
A: Your plan to share covering the office sounds like an excellent idea. There would be no reason for you to discontinue answering phones and visitors the way you have always done just because this co-worker could be considered available. You can tell her that you respect her wishes and that you will let her know when parties will be taking place, but that she will not be expected to take on reception or telephone duties because you have always simply taken turns in the past and will continue to do so in the future.