For kids and many adults, Halloween means two things: eating candy until you feel sick and an excuse to dress up as anyone or anything you could ever dream of. Seems pretty innocent, right? Why not have a little fun at work, too?
Personally, I had never given much thought to Halloween in the workplace until recently when a colleague of mine asked if people dress up at work for Halloween and whether or not she should wear a costume. This got me thinking, do we have a Halloween policy and if so, what does it entail? At first, the thought of a “Halloween policy” seemed a little ridiculous. Is it really necessary for companies to instill a policy to celebrate one day each year? Then again, if you’re not careful, a little Halloween fun could turn into an Employee Relations nightmare.
No one wants to be the “fun police,” but the reality is the law doesn’t stop for Halloween. Here are some things to keep in mind this Halloween:
1. If the word ‘naughty’ is in the title, lose the costume.
There’s nothing scarier for an HR professional than walking into work and seeing an abundance of sexy nurses, cats, firefighters, cops, and more. Believe it or not, a fine line exists between acceptable and tasteless Halloween attire. While a formal Halloween policy may not be necessary, it is important to communicate to employees that the company dress code policy is still in effect; employees should also confirm their costume ideas with managers.
2. Resist the temptation to ignore the religious component of Halloween.
With candy, costumes, and scary stories, we often forget that Halloween originates within a religious context. Remember that religion is a protected class under Title VII and is broadly defined. Therefore, all religions should equally be taken seriously. Although Halloween is now mostly regarded as a secular holiday, not everyone shares this view. It is important for HR Professionals to maintain awareness of the religious undertones and remember that the law requires sensitivity of all religions.
3. Discrimination is still at play.
Halloween celebrations may mask potential serious issues of discrimination such as discrimination based on religion or race. Remember that “appropriate” carries a different meaning for each employee, and what might seem like a funny costume to one person could be extremely offensive to another. Be sure to inform your employees of what’s appropriate.
Rita Snell is a Graduate Assistant in the Graduate Programs for Human Resource Development at Villanova University in the Master of Science in HRD program. She is a Co-President of the VU SHRM Student Chapter. Learn more about her and VU SHRM here!