There’s nothing quite as scary as Halloween for an organization that has not clearly established a set of expectations. Can you say sexual harassment, hostile work environment and workers comp?
If there has been a terrible or offensive event in the news over the prior year that should not be lampooned, rest assured it is fodder for Halloween costumes – from Ebola and ISIS beheadings to Ray Rice & his battered wife…there are no end to the potential horrors. Not to mention the garden variety of perennial offenses like black face; racial, religious, sexual and age-related stereotypes; and suggestive or revealing costumes. And we are simply assuming that your celebrations would never include alcoholic beverages, fire-related decor and other liabilities-waiting-to-happen “celebratory” components.

Besides the potential legal pitfalls, camera phones and social media mean that anything inappropriate that happens in your workplace can turn into a public relations nightmare in an instant. Kathryn Twedt-Johannsen posts some frightening anecdotes about what we would call “career limiting” costumes that went viral in social media.

Fisher & Phillips Attorneys Offer Tips to Ensure Your Office Halloween Party Doesn’t Turn Into a Nightmare – we’re excerpting some of their pre-planning suggestions.

• Decide if costumes are appropriate for the workplace.
• Clearly communicate costume guidelines in advance.
• Remind employees they are still at work, despite the holiday overtone.
• Don’t overreact, but be sensitive to the issues.
• Consider any feedback the company received from employees or customers concerning last year’s Halloween party or employee costumes.
• Offer alternative celebrations.
• Be prepared to discipline for misconduct, if necessary.
We’d add a few points:
• Make any celebrations or parties optional. Nothing says workers comp quite like “mandatory” fun.
• Be sure to add “safety” to your costume guidelines.
• Discourage tricks or pranks that could scare others or pose a safety hazard.
We like the idea of alternative celebrations. We’re recycling and expanding on ideas we’ve suggested in the past:
• 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 zombie walk might be fun!
• Sponsor a pumpkin carving contest
• Have a Halloween pot-luck lunch with themed food
• Sponsor a blood drive on Halloween and offer treats for participants. A zombie or vampire theme might be fun.

OK, now that we’ve sufficiently terrified you about potential liability, we feel we need to offer a few treats – Halloween can indeed be fun. Here are some clever, non-controversial costumes that amused us

Ice Bucket Challenge
A Better Bat Costume
Pop-art Roy Lichenstein Costume
Elaborate animal masks

More resources:

How to Make Halloween Safe and Fun in Your Workplace

Trick or Treat: Can Employers Face Liability for Celebrating Halloween in the Workplace?
Can the ‘Naughty Nurse’ and Modern Workplace Coexist?

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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