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Is Halloween A Trick or a Treat at Your Office?

Posted by: Gail Cecchettini Whaley, Esq. on Thursday, October 18, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

Halloween is just around the corner. This year it falls mid-week—on a Wednesday—and you may be thinking about an office celebration. If you decide to celebrate, what’s the best way to do so and avoid any Halloween workplace horror stories?

One benefit of celebrating Halloween at work is employee engagement. 85% of employees are not engaged at work according to a 2017 Gallup Survey. What’s the downside of poor engagement? It can include indifference to your organization’s goals and lack of best effort. Engaged employees, on the other hand, can boost your company’s productivity and bottom line. Celebrating events like Halloween can foster camaraderie, team building, and social connections.

Nightmare on Employee Street

Although some workplace Halloween ideas, like providing free candy or bringing in a special Halloween breakfast, are easy morale boosters, opening the door to costumes at work requires some planning.

Revealing, provocative, sexy, outrageous or otherwise inappropriate costumes quickly cross the line into NSFW (not-safe-for-work) territory. An employer may even find itself involved in a lawsuit that is partly based on what happened at an office Halloween party. Imagine, for example, that someone’s Halloween costume included “blackface”—this is offensive and could end up as part of a racial harassment claim against the employer. Last year, a large office supply company made the news when customers complained about a worker wearing “blackface.” The worker meant for people to think she was a Sharpie marker, but clearly, she missed the mark.

Halloween Do’s and Don’ts

If you decide to allow employees to dress up for Halloween, make sure to remind everyone in advance about your office dress code policy, which usually speaks to not wearing overly revealing clothes in the office.

Many office dress code policies ask employees to use their “best judgment,” but Halloween and “best judgment” don’t always go hand-in-hand. As an employer, you’ll need to be more specific about your costume guidelines. Don’t just focus on the sexually provocative costumes. Other costumes that should be avoided include:

• Political costumes, such as costumes mocking a particular political figure, like the President, or a political policy issue, like immigration
• Religious costumes or those spoofing religions
• Any type of costume that mocks or demeans a specific culture/race/gender/sexual orientation/age or relies on exaggerated stereotypes
• Overly grotesque costumes
• Costumes that make fun of or imitate other people in the company
• Outfits that cause safety/hazard issues

Other things to keep in mind if celebrating Halloween in the office include:

• Making sure decorations don’t cause a workplace safety issue (think candles/open flames)
• Deciding if you want to allow costumes in customer-facing jobs
• Accommodating workers who may be offended by the celebration of Halloween on religious principles
• Reminding employees of your anti-harassment policies if you have an office party and that you always expect respectful office behavior
• Not serving alcohol during work hours (as that only increases the likelihood of poor behaviors)
• Taking into account operational and scheduling concerns and pay issues if you decide to close the office early

Fun times can be had at work—simply plan ahead and communicate expectations!

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