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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.