Many employers will have already hosted a Halloween office party or allowed employees to dress up today to celebrate, but the Halloween festivities, whether work-sponsored or not, can continue to haunt employers long after today. Below are several examples of problems employers encountered because of Halloween activities:
- Last year, a college president sparked outrage after a photograph circulated on social media of him and other university staffer members at a Halloween party wearing brightly colored ponchos, sombreros, bushy mustaches, and holding maracas. Understandably, many people considered the costume offensive, resulting in a formal apology and a meeting with the university’s Office of Hispanic and Latino Initiatives.
- Another incident last year involved two professors at another university, one of whom ultimately resigned following the incident. One of the professors wrote an e-mail in response to a request from a campus group that students avoid wearing insensitive costumes, saying that students should be allowed to wear any costume they wanted. The e-mail and other incidents at the school prompted hundreds of students and faculty to protest over perceived racial insensitivity. The professor’s husband supported his wife’s e-mail and decided to take a sabbatical in the spring semester following the incident.
- Our blog post last year highlighted several cases that arose from Halloween activities, including a case where an employee’s supervisor made an inappropriate comment about the employee’s fishnet stockings, a case where an employee’s provocative costume was offered by the defense in a sexual harassment case, a case where the plaintiff dressed as a cat, prompting a manager to comment that he wanted “that p***y,” and a case where a white office worker came to a party dressed in blackface.
Because Halloween falls on a Monday this year, many people celebrated over the weekend, and pictures of costumes and events are flooding social media. More pictures and costumes will follow after celebrations this evening. In addition to setting expectations for appropriate costumes to wear in the workplace, employers must be vigilant for problems that can result from employees’ costumes outside of work as well. Employers should remind their employees that any harassing comments or gossip are inappropriate for the workplace and that engaging in such conduct can result in discipline. Remembering these incidents and taking immediate action if any inappropriate behavior occurs will make Halloween and the weeks that follow a lot less scary.