When it comes to scaring HR professionals on Halloween, ghosts and
goblins have nothing on inappropriate costumes in the workplace. Many
organizations celebrate Halloween by allowing employees to dress up and
by hosting parties; in fact, according to the Society for Human Resource
Management (SHRM), more than one in three employees celebrate
Halloween with co-workers, and more than one in four dress in costume.
But the festive atmosphere of this secular holiday can lead some to push
the envelope too far. When it comes to costumes, what one person
considers humorous, another may view as offensive. Every HR department
has their fair share of horror stories about employees who have worn
risqué or offensive costumes to work. And these aren’t just awkward
situations—they can lead to legal ramifications for discrimination and
harassment. So how can you prevent an HR scare this Halloween?
Put a Halloween costume policy in place
According to Marya Calhoun, director of human asset management and
development at Vericom Corp., a well-communicated party and costume
policy is the safest route.
Her advice? “Develop guidelines for office-appropriate costumes.
Remember to be as clear as possible. Giving guidelines helps everyone to
understand what’s acceptable and appropriate.”
How clear do you have to be? Experts say that policies should go beyond
the standard “Use good taste and judgment,” because each individual can
interpret that very differently. It’s best to provide examples of
costumes that may be considered offensive. Examples could include
costumes that exaggerate body parts, those that reveal too much of the
body, men and women dressed as the opposite gender, or ethnic
religious or race-based costumes.
Additionally, SHRM offers the following advice to companies that want to
create policies for Halloween costumes and parties:
- Clearly communicate costume guidelines in advance.
- Caution employees of hospitals or other health care organizations
- that images of ghosts, graves, skeletons and blood don’t go over well in
- health care settings.
- Request that workers avoid donning political costumes that could be
- Make sure desk and other office decorations don’t violate fire or
- safety codes. If some find them offensive, consider keeping them
- confined to a small part of the office.
- Consider whether costumes might seem unprofessional on employees who
- interact with customers.
- Remember that, in some industries, such as manufacturing, costumes
- can jeopardize safety.
Be mindful of religious beliefs
In addition to inappropriate costumes, Halloween can cause other issues
in the workplace. Some employees may take offense at the very
celebration of Halloween. For example, Steve Miller, a labor and
employment attorney at Chicago-based Fisher & Phillips, once defended a
company against an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claim filed
by a Christian worker who said the office Halloween party offended her
religious beliefs because it celebrated evil. The EEOC dismissed the
claim because the company told the worker she didn’t have to attend the
party and offered to give her a paid day off instead.
Given that some workers may be offended by Halloween celebrations,
consider offering to let them work from home or take the day off.
With a Halloween costume policy in place and religious considerations
taken into account, your organization should be able to enjoy the fun of
Halloween without worrying about scaring the HR department.
Paycor Can Help
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Source: Society for Human Resource Management
This content is intended for educational purposes and should not be
considered legal advice.