October 26, 2018

Skeleton businessman working in the office to illustrate HR-appropriate Halloween

Happy HR-Appropriate Halloween!

Halloween decorations and costumes are a major source of fun for many people. For some, going all-out with these things is the best part of the holiday. As your trusty HR advisors, we have to do that thing where we remind you that there are some precautions you need to take when celebrating in your office.

A lot of people associate Halloween with kids, candy, fun, or even just a part of standard fall decorating. It’s easy to forget that not everyone celebrates Halloween. It may be against their religion, they may associate it with concepts they aren’t comfortable with (there are a lot of devil and witch costumes out there…), and the fear-factor component can be triggering for people who have had violent experiences.

At CEDR, we don’t want to discourage having some office fun or celebrating fun holidays. But we want to make sure that it’s being done with important HR considerations in mind so that everyone is able to participate comfortably.

What About Office Costume Parties?

While it may seem obvious, it’s still important to note that not all costumes are appropriate for the workplace. Halloween stores often make “adult” versions of traditional kids’ outfits by making them “sexy” – a scantily dressed cat, for instance. That outfit likely falls well outside the scope of your normal dress code to begin with, and we’d hope that employees don’t wear the “sexy” outfit to the workplace – but assuming that isn’t always safe!

We’ve unfortunately seen even more costumes this season crossing yet another line. Costumes depicting figures associated with sexual harassment are definitely going to be out of line for the workplace, especially with the growth of the #MeToo movement. Believe it or not, People Magazine found a costume depicting Bill Cosby hauling away an unconscious woman. Sure, some people may find a politically or culturally topical, satirical, or outrageous outfit funny – but not everyone! For this reason, some HR experts recommend avoiding celebrity costumes all together. This eliminates the possibility of someone showing up as a celebrity that is being recognized for something controversial.

Costumes that mock any religion, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity should also be off limits. When it comes to political costumes, HR professionals have differing opinions. Some say they can be a source of tension between employees, while others say they represent having a good sense of humor. The best way to avoid an issue is for the employer to set guidelines and give examples of what is considered an inappropriate costume.

Creating an Office Haunted House

As far as decorating goes, it’s advised to keep decorations minimal and neutral. Think small pumpkins or other “fall” decorations as opposed to witches, demons, and the like. It’s important to consider employees who object to the holiday due to their religious beliefs. Gruesome or extremely graphic decorations should also be avoided, as they can be triggering for some.

Overall Rules

As employers, it’s essential that you set guidelines regarding Halloween celebrations. And, as with all holiday celebrations, make participation optional.

As employees, make sure to check with management if you are unsure if something is appropriate.

Celebrating at work should be fun for all involved, and taking these extra precautions helps to make sure of that.

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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Please note: CEDR Solutions specializes in providing expert HR support to owners and operators of independently owned medical and dental practices.