Costumes, booze and the Great Pumpkin – beware the office Halloween party

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Adam Gutmann
October 25th, 2018

This blog was written by Adam Gutmann at Cozen O'Connor, which authors our Minnesota Human Resources Manual, New York Human Resources Manual, and Pennsylvania Human Resources Manual. You can find the original post and their HR Headaches blog (good stuff) on their website.

Halloween in the Workplace – What Could Go Wrong?

Adam Gutmann

October 31st is right around the corner, and in workplaces all across the U.S. employers are contemplating having some kind of Halloween party or inviting employees to dress up. On its face, it seems like a great idea. Halloween can be a fun way to break the monotony of everyday office life (and is a convenient excuse to eat embarrassing amounts of candy) but with it comes a unique set of pitfalls. Here, we touch on a number of those pitfalls and ways to avoid them.

First and foremost, as is applicable to all other office functions, alcohol and Halloween may seem like a fun idea, but is generally not advisable. If you choose to serve alcohol at your Halloween event, drinks should be limited and monitored by a third party. Licensed mobile bartending services are a convenient way to check both of these boxes. Also, always encourage safe transport home. If alcohol is served, consider whether to give out an Uber or Lyft code to provide employees with an easy (and free) way to get home afterward.

Second, Halloween just isn’t the same without costumes, but you will want to provide some basic guidance to your employees ahead of time on what is ok to wear. At a minimum you should communicate the following costume “no-fly-zones”:  generally, avoiding political or socially charged themes (especially these days) is a must, as is steering clear of costumes that could be construed as offensive – particularly if they could be viewed as offensive to a certain protected class of individuals. Also, Halloween is not an opportunity to dress provocatively at work, and it should be made clear that revealing costumes are off limits.  Think ahead of time, and designate someone in management / HR to be responsible for fielding any questions or complaints about employee costumes. If anything does come up, you’ll be glad you did.

Third, it is important to keep in mind employees’ personal preferences and beliefs, especially those that may be religious-based. Without getting into the various issues that this raises (think Title VII), most problems in this regard can be avoided by making costumes and parties completely optional. Employees should be free to participate or not without pressure or influence from coworkers or managers.

Keeping these issues in mind, and giving them some advance thought and planning can help employers prevent a whole array of HR nightmares.

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