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Trick, Treat, or Termination: Halloween in the Workplace

Published:  October 27, 2014

Halloween is traditionally a night of costumes, candy, fun, and fright.  But for employers this holiday can easily mean trouble.  Whether it is just employees getting festive at work or your business has a designated Halloween party, the potential Halloween hazards are numerous.  The best way to combat these potential pitfalls is to implement a Halloween policy to give employees some guidance about expectations and to train supervisors so they are able to adequately enforce policies and recognize violations.

The biggest issue facing Halloween and not so much other holidays are the costumes.  While you should have a general “dress code” for your workplace it is important for employees to be aware that this dress code does not stop existing just because orange and black are in style. 

Costumes can create issues in multiple ways which will best be avoided by a clear and comprehensive Halloween policy.  In the past we have seen issues regarding costumes being racially, religiously, or otherwise offensive.  Other costumes present the problem of being overly revealing.  Particularly skimpy outfits (or even not so skimpy outfits by some standards) have the potential of leading to sexual harassment against that employee or others feeling uncomfortable and sexually harassed themselves.  Further, costumes have been increasingly pushing the envelope regarding overall decency and respect for tragedy.  In the past we have seen an employee come to work dressed as a Boston Marathon Bombing victim, this year a costume of similar standards we may see is the Hazmat suit in reaction to the Ebola outbreak.  Finally, costumes should never run the risk of being unsafe.  A school bus driver wearing a scream mask or a machine operator dressed as a grim reaper both create safety issues that should be addressed by policy and by management if unsafe situations arise.

Take-away

While celebrating Halloween can be a fun bonding experience for your office or a great way to interact with the public (depending on your business) it is important for employers to present clear expectations for employees on this annual holiday.  Therefore, a written memorandum or office policy regarding the issue would be a prudent step to take.  In addition, make sure all your supervisors are well trained in how to handle dress-code or anti-discrimination violations and are able to take corrective action when such violations arise.

If you have any questions regarding holiday policies or supervisor training, please contact any of the attorneys at Royal LLP at (413) 586-2288.

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