Beware, Halloween is right around the corner! Haunted houses, never-ending trick-or-treaters, and late-night mischief are a few things that come to mind when thinking about Halloween. However; things like inappropriate and offensive costumes, safety hazards, and employees potentially hassling other employees for not participating at work are the spooky things that keep HR managers and business owners from wanting to host any workplace Halloween activities all together. While Halloween is not a federally-recognized holiday like Christmas or Thanksgiving, it is considered the second largest commercial holiday in the United States, thus, many organizations are planning on hosting Halloween-related activities in the workplace.
When planning any kind of celebration, or workplace activities, organizations must weigh the pros and cons of each activity very carefully. Halloween is no exception to this rule as things could spiral out of control relatively quickly. Halloween celebrations may range from trick-or-treating and crafts with employees’ children to pumpkin carving contests, to adult costume parties. While Halloween celebrations may build team skills, promote creativity and develop camaraderie, it’s important to remember potentially adverse aspects as well, especially in light of compliance with federal and state laws. Below are a few tips on incorporating Halloween festivities in the workplace and some suggestions for keeping the workplace “spook-free”:
- Refrain from pressuring or requiring any employee’s participation in planned activities. All events should be voluntary and organizations should ask their employees what activities they’d like to participate in, if anything. Receiving employee’s feedback via surveys is a great way to find out who may, or may not want to participate in planned activities. Also, involving employees in the planning of activities may be beneficial. They may have creative ideas for involving those coworkers who typically don’t participate in organization-sponsored activities.
- Employers should be sensitive to employee feelings about Halloween. Some employees may have strong religious beliefs that go against celebrating anything associated with Halloween. To avoid religious discrimination claims and prevent overall morale concerns for employees who may not want to participate, an organization may convey that participation in office Halloween events is optional, not mandatory, and that retaliation against and harassment of employees who opt out is not acceptable. Calling someone a “party pooper” or “poor team player” because he or she doesn’t feel comfortable participating in Halloween festivities, either because he or she does not want to be “spooked”, or because Halloween traditions conflict with his or her religious or cultural beliefs, could expose an organization and employees involved in a legal liability. If an employee becomes offended, consider offering to let them work from home, or give them the rest of the day off on the day of the event.
- Halloween is a time when some employees may decide to test the boundaries of appropriate behavior in the workplace. Pranks may be harmless, but not every employee may think that it is funny to be scared or tricked into eating candy that turns their teeth black. The anti-harassment policy should not be disregarded during the holiday, and employees should be reminded that, above all, coworkers should be treated with respect and left alone if they do not want to join in any Halloween activities.
- When it comes to costumes, what one employee considers comical, another may consider deeply offensive. It’s important for employers to set guidelines on the types of costumes and accessories that may be worn or brought into the workplace. These guidelines should be shared with employees in enough time for someone to come up with an alternative costume as their initial costume may not have fit within the guidelines. Sexually suggestive, politically-themed, culturally insensitive, or obsessively scary costumes that are not appropriate may need to be banned. Likewise, no good costume is complete without accessories, however; accessories like guns, swords, etc., even if they are fake, should be left at home. Many costumes may not be appreciated by employees and could leave the employer open to potential legal liability, especially in an era where workplace violence and sexual harassment claims may be prevalent. Organizations have a legal responsibility to ensure their workplaces don’t constitute a hostile environment for employees.
- Safety is a big concern for employers as they consider appropriate yet fun activities on Halloween. Wearing costumes with flowing robes near large machinery is an injury waiting to happen. Activities such as carving pumpkins and putting lit candles inside carved pumpkins are also potential safety concerns. Other activities should be weighed for safety concerns. Costumes, decorations and activities should never violate fire or safety codes.
- Some companies make Halloween a family-friendly event and invite the children of employees for activities such as trick-or-treating, bobbing for apples and carving pumpkins (With adult supervision, of course!). This builds a bond between employees and their coworkers and helps the employees’ families feel more connected to their loved one’s workplace. If Halloween is a family-friendly event, ensure that alcohol is not present at any of the festivities.
- Halloween is a great time to showcase employee talents and hobbies outside of the normal workplace. The planning team may consider asking employees who like to bake whether they would consider providing a special dessert for the celebration or participate in a bake-off. This would be a great time to show off employee talents and, afterwards, everyone may indulge in the delightful results of their hobby. As with any culinary event in the office, be mindful of food allergies.
While the potential liabilities of hosting Halloween activities in the workplace may be a spooky thought, using the tips above and planning ahead will ensure that the initial goal of building team skills, promoting creativity and developing camaraderie in the workplace is achieved without creating any horror stories in the process.
For additional information on this topic, please contact us at www.newfocushr.com.
Written By: Patrick McKenna, SHRM-CP