It’s that spooky time of year again, and we’re dusting off and updating some of our seasonal advice about the annual question: should you allow costumes at work?

For many employers, the answer is an unequivocal “no.” A decision to disallow costumes may be based on business reasons or organizational culture such as upholding a professional image or for safety reasons – costumes don’t work well in every environment. For many employers, it’s simply not worth taking on the additional liability risk.

But other employers see the holiday as a fun time to build team spirit and camaraderie given that Halloween ranks second after Christmas in terms of holiday popularity. If you are among the employers who choose to allow costumes, forewarned is forearmed. Set expectations in advance about what is and isn’t allowed – no risque costumes; no costumes that might be perceived as racially, ethnically, religiously, or politically offensive; and no costumes that could be a safety hazard. Employees should use good sense and avoid what we would refer to as potentially career-limiting costumes.

Human Resources Executive poses some spooky legal scenarios along with some advice. At SHRM, Dana Wilkie asks whether the Naughty Nurse’ and Modern Workplace Coexist?, posing some really scary examples of offensive or discriminatory scenarios. SHRM’s prior advice is also good: Halloween Celebrations Can Lead to Scary Situations.

We like the idea of alternative celebrations in lieu of at-work costumes. Here are a few ideas:

  • Have a family event geared to kids. Let kids and pets come in costumes
  • Organize a “trick or treat” event for a local nursing home or have an event to raise money for a charity. A charity zombie walk might be fun!
  • Sponsor a pumpkin carving contest
  • Let people decorate their offices and work stations
  • Have a Halloween pot-luck lunch with themed food – special bonus if your treats are healthy
  • Sponsor a blood drive on Halloween and offer gruesome seasonal treats for participants

Just for fun, here’s our favorite costume so far this year – showing what a little creativity and some LED lights do!


When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

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