Firm News

October 5, 2017

Halloween Costumes, an Unexpected Source of Legal Nightmares

Employees should be reminded that it is still an office, even on Halloween

As Halloween approaches, many employees look forward to expressing themselves with a fun costume at the office. Whether you do an office party or simply encourage employees to have fun with the day, it is important that you and they remember that it is still a place of business.

Revealing costumes, and any comments or actions related to such a costume, are obvious problem areas. However, employers should also be aware of more subtle issues. If any employee is being targeted as a result of a costume, whether by one person or multiple people, it could be a basis for a harassment claim.

Current events often inspire costumes but, depending on context and specifics, may be offensive. Employers should also be aware that otherwise sensible employees might take actions or make statements that harass or offend simply to “be in character.” Whether these actions rise to violations of company policy or create liability for an employer would require a case by case analysis, but it is clear that at a minimum such actions create tension in the workplace and will require human resources intervention.

Employers should attempt to mitigate these potential issues by communicating guidelines and expectations well in advance. You should be sensitive to employee’s concerns by treating complaints as legitimate and documenting everything. Additionally, be prepared to discipline employees if necessary.

If workplace issues are a reoccurring theme, consider celebrating the holiday in alternative ways. If your office has not yet had an issue, remain aware of the potential and stay in front of the topic to keep it that way.
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