Why Halloween Hi-jinx Should Frighten Employers

Potential Legal Downsides to Halloween Celebrations Exist on Many Levels

Man wearing devil costume working in cubicle decorated for Halloween
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Halloween celebrations in the office are motivational and fun for employees. But, Halloween celebrations in the office also bring their own set of challenges for the employer. Although Halloween is meant to be a festive day, for some employers it could be more frightening than fun when employees celebrate Halloween in the office.

In the interest of fostering good feelings among their employees, some employers have permitted employees to wear Halloween costumes in the office. Others have permitted after-hours Halloween parties on work premises. In either instance, employers ought to think twice about the inherent exposures to liability for all of this ghoulishness in the office.

Not only does the wearing of any kind of festive attire in the office create the prospect for compensable injuries, for example, tripping over costume parts or other features of the attire, but it also creates other serious potential employer liability.

Specifically, employers face the prospect that poor judgment will be used by some employees and costumes or themes represented by those outfits can be misinterpreted (or interpreted correctly) as insensitive or denigrating or politically incorrect.

Since more often than not, today’s workplaces officially have zero tolerance for disparate or discriminatory conduct, speech, or verbal acts, any conduct which is deemed offensive by any other employee or customer could give rise to hue and cry.

Clearly, employees whose costumes might imitate forms of dementia such as Frankenstein or Hannibal Lector, or any imitation of a minority or religious figure may prompt a complaint. Then, for example, there are cases where employees have worn jail costumes or those with nooses have created special issues for employers.

Of course, some employees exhibit horrendously poor judgment by doing such things as wearing combat fatigues, pull-over masks and play guns to the office as part of the Halloween holiday ritual. Whole police squadrons have been dispatched to apprehend Halloween revelers because someone else in the office building believes she or he has just seen Die Hard I type terrorists attack the premises.

Halloween costumes in the office can erode customer confidence if the business itself is reliant upon projecting its product and brand name with sincerity and reliability. Particularly in these difficult economic times, it is hard for an investment house or bank to engender confidence if the employer permits its employees to dress foolishly, ghoulishly, or like the cast from CATS.

Internally, an otherwise ambitious employee’s credibility and judgment can be seriously eroded in the eyes of managers by how they conduct themselves at Halloween celebrations in the office. At the same time, if the office Halloween festivities begin to take on the aura of some office Christmas parties, the employer may be creating more exposure on its premises for sexual harassment claims.

Finally, to the extent that any complaints are received by the employer, the supervisors, and managers who countenance or who are deemed to have approved any misbehavior can be named as individual respondents along with the corporate employer in the event of any claims.

Despite these inherent legal concerns, if an employer still wishes to allow Halloween holiday costumes in the office, they should consider some type of admonition similar to the following as part of their Halloween communication with employees.

We want you to enter into the good spirit of the Halloween holiday. Nonetheless, employees and managers are expected to use good judgment and common sense if you choose to come to work in costume. We are a diverse organization and costumes that coworkers may find offensive or insulting are not welcome.
Proper work place decorum and our usual attention to customers and clients will be foremost in discharging our duties and responsibilities as usual.

All in all, this may be the year to consider a sober approach to any on-premises or employer-sponsored Halloween activity. In any case, employees need to consider whether to drink or not at work events.

You can celebrate Halloween in the office and make the celebration both motivational and fun. You can include partners, spouses, and children to build the camaraderie and rapport among your employees and their families.

While costumes for adults can make for a merry time, make sure that you have cautioned your employees about expected and proper work attire for Halloween. Don't let Halloween hi-jinx spoil your office celebration.

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