Halloween In the Office: Avoid a Legal Scare

by | 30 Oct, 2018

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As we move through fall and approach the holiday season, we are entering a time when holiday celebrations in the workplace become commonplace. Fall offers plenty of opportunities for seasonal cheer and festivities, with Halloween being an especially fun time. But employers need to be wary when Halloween is celebrated in the workplace, as there is plenty of room for misconduct that can bring about legal ramifications.

Employers do not need to steer totally clear of celebrating Halloween in the office, as employer-sponsored festivities can be a great way to boost employee morale and keep spirits high. Employers choose to celebrate Halloween in a variety of ways, from having costume contests to carving pumpkins to holding a parade with the children of the employees, and more. Employers are best at knowing what level of festivities will fit with the company culture- some companies may go all out with a day of activities, whereas others may be more suited for a more low-key nod to the holiday.

Regardless of how employers choose to celebrate Halloween, the onus is on them to ensure that the experience is enjoyable and safe for everyone involved. Here are some tips for employers to make the most of this Halloween:

  • Set boundaries for costumes. Employers should communicate with employees what types of costumes are allowed, and what types are not. It is a good practice to keep costumes G-rated in the workplace and to advise against costumes that are overly revealing, politically charged, insensitive to a certain religion or nationality, or violent in nature. While employers cannot include a list of every costume that is prohibited, it is a good idea to prompt employees with some questions to help employees figure out if their costume is appropriate, such as “Will this costume embarrass me in front of my coworkers? Employers can even share an infographic such as this one to help employees make their decision.
  • Respect religious objections. Some employees may object to the celebration of Halloween in general because of its ties to demons and the occult. Employers should be wary of heavily pushing any imagery that could be offensive, such as depictions of witches or demons. It is better to be safe and promote the lighter side of the holiday with depictions and decorations such as pumpkins, scarecrows, candy corn, etc.
  • Make the celebrations inclusive, but not mandatory. Employees should not feel pressured to wear a costume or participate in festivities, especially if it goes against their beliefs or it makes them feel uncomfortable. That being said, employers should make an effort to ensure that whatever festivities are held are inclusive and fun for all. For example, if a costume contest is held, there should be multiple categories of winners to avoid making it an office popularity contest.
  • Take steps to ensure safety. There are several ways that Halloween festivities can quickly turn dangerous. Ensure that costumes and decorations are not impeding the safety of the workplace. Employees should not wear costumes that interfere with their ability to safely do their job, and decorations should not pose an obstacle or be distracting or overly frightening.
  • Be careful with alcohol. This applies to any office celebration, but employers must be very cautious when choosing to serve alcohol at a company event. If alcohol will be served, consumption should be monitored. It is a good idea to have a third-party serving the alcohol, such as a licensed bartender. Furthermore, employers should take steps to ensure that employees that are drinking are able to get home safely, and should encourage employees to take public transportation or an Uber/Lyft.

Following the above steps will put employers on the right track in celebrating Halloween in the workplace in a way that is fun, inclusive, and safe for all involved. Employees will appreciate the break from day-to-day activities, and employers will appreciate the boost in morale while still knowing they have taken the steps and precautions to avoid potentially dangerous and costly ramifications.

Tom DiSilva
Tom DiSilva has been providing professional human resource services for over 30 years. As the CEO of Navigate PEO, he actively partners with organizations of all sizes in the Greater New England area and across the country to help their businesses grow. He has expertise in HR and Labor Management, offering guidance and support for key areas of business such as negotiations, operations management, employee coaching, and employee benefits design. He is an active member of The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), The National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO), Professional Association of Co-Employers (PACE), and The American Payroll Association (APA). He is deeply committed to giving back to the community both personally and through Navigate Cares, which provides support for several nonprofit organizations such as the USO, The Boys & Girls Club, and the 3Point Foundation.

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Disclaimer: this article does not represent expert advice and is provided for informational purposes. Please get in touch if you would like expert HR advice.