I have often wondered about how this could have been handled differently, if possible by my work, or by me, or by the person involved.
B/G In the UK, this date is the Armistice Date, and people everywhere wear a red poppy on their clothes to remember the dead, primarily from the 1st and 2nd world wars. This is VERY common place, part of our culture, all presenters on UK TV wear them, and probably 1 out of 5 people can be seen wearing them on the streets around the time (they are sold for charity which goes towards ex or injured servicemen, it supports the troops in Afghanistan etc). End B/G
A few years ago, my work colleagues and I were at an important road show to promote our architectural work to high end business people on the 11th November (Armistice Day). On all the other stands people are wearing poppies. I was asked by my boss to get 8 poppies in the morning for all of our people manning the stand.
I give them out to my colleagues as we are getting ready, but one colleagues got very annoyed and said she wearing a poppy out of principle. She explained that her family supported the other side in the 2nd world war (her family comes from a European country, though this is not obvious in her name or accent, though not Germany), and therefore would not wear one out of principle. I can understand the sentiment, and thought I was a little taken back at her annoyance, I put the poppy away and let my boss know we had one spare, as I explained the lady in question felt uncomfortable wearing it. He was fine with that.
The problem came later, when guests (our clients and potential clients) began to arrive. As all of us on the stand were wearing poppies, people would say hello to us all, and then say hello my colleague and cheerily ask if her poppy had fallen off, one person actually told her they had a spare, and did she want it. Where upon she began explaining to them, very emphatically, that as her family had supported the other side, she would not wear one out of principle. I can imagine that she was getting annoyed with constantly being asked where her poppy was.
Now this caused a few very awkward moments with clients. A few clients wondered off immediately from our stand and one (quite older, but very important client), whose father had fought in the RAF, looked quite ticked off and left the stand.
So this is my question: Would it have been right for my boss to intervene at this point and ask my colleagues not to keep telling people this if it looks that we are upsetting clients or making a number of clients feel uncomfortable, thus having an effect on the business persona of the day. BUT CAN you, indeed, say anything? You cant force anyone to wear a poppy, certainly not! But in the same instance, you cant ask the rest of the group to take theirs off so she would not be as conspicuous. And we couldnt stop clients from the general chit chat observing that made her feel uncomfortable.