Halloween can be such a fun holiday for kids of all ages. When October 31st falls on a weekday, as it does this year, ghoulish fun will certainly creep its way into the workplace. How can you, as a human resources professional, ensure that the day is more fun than it is scary? Simple. Just follow a few rules.
1: Make any Halloween office festivities totally voluntary
As you know, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from religious discrimination in the workplace. Even though most people would consider Halloween in 2017 to be largely a secular holiday, it does have religious roots. Be considerate of employees who do not wish to participate in dressing up in costumes or attending Halloween-themed workplace parties. The employee may have a religious reason for not wanting to observe Halloween, and the employee has no obligation to notify the company of his or her rationale for not wanting to participate. Keeping the festivities 100% optional will help prevent any such issues. (As an aside, keep in mind that one or more of your employees may request, as a religious accommodation, to miss work that day, as it is a recognized Wiccan holiday.)
2: Ensure that any Halloween costumes are appropriate for the workplace
As Lili Reinhart recently found out, not all Halloween costumes are created equally. The actress, who stars on the “Riverdale” series (on the CW), tweeted a picture of her planned Halloween costume, which was an all-black demon. The backlash on social media was swift and unequivocal, as the costume appeared to include blackface. Reinhart apologized immediately, stating that she could “see how it was interpreted as being insensitive, completely.”
Other celebrities have also caused debate in recent years, including singer Chris Brown who dressed up as a Taliban member, and Prince Harry, who dressed up as a member of the Nazi party. Such costumes, of course, in the workplace could lead to claims for unlawful harassment. Simply put, be sure that employees understand that all costumes must be workplace appropriate and that the costumes do not stereotype any religion, national origin, gender or race in a negative light.
In addition, employees should be reminded that any costumes should not be too revealing or provocative, and should not contain any type of weapon as an accessory. Finally, costumes should be safe: if the employee works in a job around heavy machinery or where chemicals from a costume could become flammable, then the safety risks outweigh the benefit of fun, and the employer should not allow the costume. When in doubt, ask the employee to go home and change.
3: Be mindful of the professional setting if you plan to allow children to visit the workplace on Halloween
Many employers allow the children of employees, and sometimes even children of customers and suppliers, to visit the workplace after school hours on Halloween and trick-or-treat down the hallways. Although such events can be morale-building and lead to employee bonding, they can also present unintended problems. As a practical matter, be sure that you have communicated this event to all employees and remind them several times prior to the day, so that large or important meetings are scheduled at other times. As cute as the kids in costume are, you do not want to frustrate an important customer or client who needs to be in your offices that afternoon for an important meeting.
Further, if a nonexempt employee needs to leave work to pick up his or her children to attend the event, be sure that you have communicated to the employee whether he or she must use PTO time for this voluntary activity, whether it will be allowed while on-the-clock, etc. Communication prior to the event is important.
With the above in mind, you can ensure that any Halloween-related festivities at your workplace are safe and fun (and uneventful from a human resources perspective!).