Halloween Costumes in the Workplace

Halloween can be more trick than treat for the nation’s employers, who must approach the annual holiday with an eye toward the potential pitfalls. For some employers the pitfalls, ranging from complaints of inappropriate costumes to lost productivity, outweigh the potential positive effects on employee morale and they prohibit staff from observing the holiday in the workplace. Some, however, may embrace the holiday, encouraging employees to wear costumes, bring candy to hand out, or even allow workers with kids to leave early to be home for trick-or-treating. Most employers, though, simply do not give any thought to having a policy on Halloween, which could prove to be a costly oversight. A 2007 survey by Vault.com found that 37 percent of employees celebrate Halloween with co-workers, and 27 percent dress in costume. “This can be great for building camaraderie and morale, but there definitely are some risks. A naughty nurse costume or a costume that is racial insensitive could open the company to sexual harassment and hostile work environment claims. Certain costumes may present safety risks in a plant or warehouse. Meanwhile, some people are offended by the entire celebration of Halloween due to religious beliefs. It is critical that companies be aware of the risks,” said John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

What are the pitfalls associated with Halloween celebrations in the workplace? How should employers and employees handle a costume that could be considered inappropriate or offensive? How can employers strike a balance between creating a fun work environment and one that doesn’t put the company at risk?