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Halloween at Work: A Real Hellraiser

Do you love Halloween?  I happen to dig Halloween.  Growing up, my family placed as much emphasis on Halloween as they did on Thanksgiving or Christmas.  The truth is we celebrated everything big:  Cuban family + [insert holiday/special event] = PARTY!  As a family, we still love dressing up, decorating, watching scary movies, attending Halloween parties, haunted houses, and giving out candy.

That said, although it may surprise you, I don’t think Halloween and the workplace mix well.  Some employers who innocently allow their workforce to engage in Halloween celebrations may find themselves in some hair-raising situations that make Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger seem undaunting.  Let’s discuss some potential issues and ways around them.

The Problem with Costumes

People magazine recently released its annual list of potentially offensive Halloween costumes, which include:

  1. Stormy Daniels Look-alike, “Cloudy Affair”;
  2. Sexy Op-Ed Article;
  3. Brave Red Maven, a provocative take on the Handmaiden’s Tale;
  4. Costumes that involve darkening your skin;
  5. Zombie dead celebrities (i.e. Zombie Carrie Fisher, Zombie Tom Petty, etc.) (GASP!)
  6. O.J. Simpson;
  7. Kneeling NFL protestors;
  8. Sexy versions of characters played by children;
  9. Costumes related to Harvey Weinstein and his victims;
  10. The “wall” (yes, the Trump wall);
  11. Sexy border patrol agent;
  12. Costumes dealing with Bill Cosy and his drugging of women

Costumes and work can cause some serious nightmares that can prove costly.  Allowing costumes may lead to such provocative or potentially offensive choices that can create serious risks for discrimination and harassment claims.   It can also create intense tension amongst the workforce.

If you’re absolutely resolute allowing people to dress up consider implementing strict guidelines.  Be prepared to send non-complying employees home to change.  Don’t require everyone to participate by wearing a costume.  Finally, speak to management to ensure they are not isolating employees who refuse to participate.  Such strong-arming or isolating can have serious consequences.

Halloween Parties and Decor

In addition to costumes, workplace Halloween parties and decorations can lead to similar results.  If an employer wants to allow its employees to decorate, that can be fine.  I would ensure the decorations are subtle and non-offensive.  Fewer witches and goblins and more cute gords with smiley faces.

Keep in mind, if you have an actual Halloween party, make sure your employees are on board.  Some employees may have religious convictions that are offended by Halloween.  Consider giving these employees a day off.  Don’t make participation mandatory.  We have seen complaints based on this issue.  In one matter, an employee filed a complaint alleging she was fired for refusing to attend a company Halloween party after she explained to her supervisor she could not participate for religious reasons.  See Morales v. PNC Bank, N.A., No. 10-1368, 2011 WL 3425644 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 4, 2011).  In another case, an employee who declined to dress up for Halloween alleged her employer retaliated against her by reducing her hours and demoting her.   See Meraz v. Jo-Ann Stores, Inc., No. CV 03-2914 GAF, 2004 WL 882458, at *10 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 2, 2004).  

As you can see Halloween can present some scary workplace situations.  The best way to avoid these problems is to just skip the celebration altogether.  However, if you choose to engage in the festivities, that’s fine–just make sure you have some thoughtfully-crafted policies in place and NEVER mandate participation.  Employees should be able to opt-out without penalty or fear of retaliation.

Now, are we ready to trick-or-treat now, or what?

The Law Firm of Alejandro Pérez assists employers in complying with the myriad of laws and situations that impact the workplace.  For employment assistance, please call us at 602.354.2833 or email us at info@alejandroperezlaw.com.

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This blog is provided by The Law Firm of Alejandro Pérez, PLC and its affiliates for educational and informational purposes only.  It is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.    

What’s in a name?

Earlier this month, a Missouri-based healthcare provider sent rejection letters to various female job applicants. While I would normally applaud that practice, these letters expressed the company’s policy of not hiring employees with “ghetto names.”

Yes, you read that right!

While the healthcare provider denies sending the notices—it claims it was hacked by a disgruntled employee—this brings to light the very real issue of name bias. Name bias can take several forms. Generally, it deals with biases towards men’s names over female names and prejudices against “Black-sounding,” “Latino-sounding,” or “foreign-sounding” names.

It’s a Real Thing!

Studies have shown name bias is a real thing. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology revealed employees with easy-to-pronounce names are more likely to receive job offers and promotions. Moreover, job applicants with “white-sounding” names were 50 percent more likely to receive job interviews, job offers and promotions.

There have also been documented cases of individuals receiving more favorable recruitment decisions after changing their names.

Name Bias is a Form of Unlawful Discrimination

While it goes without saying, I would be remiss if I did not point out name bias is a form of unlawful discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights act, as well as certain state and local laws. Under McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), SCOTUS held a plaintiff state a prima facie case of discrimination by showing four elements: (1) The Employee made an application for the position sought and was qualified; (2) the employee is a member of a Title VII protected group; (3) the employee did not receive a job offer; and (4) the employer continued to look for job candidates with similar qualifications.

If an applicant can establish a prima facie case under this standard, the burden shifts to the employer to advance a non-discriminatory reason for the employment decision.

As with any litigation or EEOC investigation, things can get expensive rather quickly.  Of course, I subscribe to the old adage “the best defense is a good offense.”  Employers should take measures to ensure such biases do not permeate their workplace or hiring practices.

What Can We Do?

I am not going to get into the data breach measures the healthcare provider could have taken to avoid this issue.  We can save that for another blog.  But, let’s talk about some solutions to deal with this name-bias problem:

1. Train management and human resources on recognizing implicit and unintentional biases.

2. Ensure nondiscrimination and harassment policies are specific and address this type of bias.

3. Consider instituting “blind hiring.” This can entail, among other things, redacting candidates’ names from their materials before putting them in circulation.

4. Structure interviews so candidates vying for the same positions are asked the same questions.

5. Make sure your selection criteria is clear and strictly enforced.

6. Keep records as to why certain candidates were chosen for interviews and, ultimately, for the position.

The Law Firm of Alejandro Pérez is experienced in assisting employers to comply with federal, state, and local laws that affect the workplace.  We regularly counsel employers on employment matters and draft thoughtful, inclusive policies that are meant to comply with all federal mandates and protect our clients from litigation.  The Firm also facilitates training on EEO, diversity and inclusion, implicit bias, respectful workplace norms, leadership skills training, and a number of other employment-related issues.

Please contact us to assist you in eliminating name bias–and other biases-from your workplace.  You can reach us at info@alejandroperezlaw.com

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This blog is provided by The Law Firm of Alejandro Pérez, PLC and its affiliates for educational and informational purposes only.  It is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.