The annual fright-fest is getting bigger every year and now many companies mark Halloween by allowing staff to wear costumes in the office or hosting after-hours’ parties. It’s a fun way to create a break in routine but can be a scary time for employers.
Solicitor at employment law specialists, Law At Work, Paman Singh looks at how to avoid the perils associated with celebrating Halloween.
Fiendish fancy dress
A day of dressing up can lift the mood in the workplace, but co-workers could be spooked by costumes that are too revealing or in poor taste. There has been a growing trend for ’bad taste costumes’ but employees would be wise to consider if their outfits are offensive – such as the Oscar Pistorius ‘Blade Gunner’ outfit, now banned from Amazon, which came complete with boot-covers to represent his running blades and a gun. If you decide to allow a relaxed dress code, it’d be wise to send a reminder that appropriate attire is still expected.
As a practical tip, employees should be sure not to wear something which prevents them from carrying out required tasks. For instance, the popular comedy blow-up Tyrannosaurus-Rex costume may be an unwise choice for an employee who is required to be able to move around easily in their workspace.
Being taken over by a demon is one thing, being possessed by Jack Daniels is something else. Bosses are advised to make it clear to staff that the normal rules for alcohol in the workplace still apply and if alcohol is on tap then have plenty of water and soft drinks available. Employers are vicariously liable for the wellbeing and behaviour of staff even if a Halloween party is held outwith normal working hours and at a different location.
Employers should also be aware that office pranks may not be received in the way they were intended. With a reported 74% of workers[i] having taken part in an office prank it would be worth reminding employees that they should tread with caution. One prankster was fired from his job in a solicitor’s office for putting a beeping device in a colleague’s drawer. This led to a third-party security company being called in to search the entire building for ‘listening devices’ thought to have been placed by competitors. *The author can confirm that he was not involved in this incident.
Employees dressing up may face jokes and remarks, however employers should reiterate that any fun should not spill over into harassment and ensure that all employees know that although it’s different from any other work day, that they are in work and normal rules still apply.
It’s not enough to make sure that Halloween decorations aren’t in such bad taste that they offend some of your workforce or visitors to your premises, but consider too any health and safety issues. You could find yourself liable if an employee gets injured while stringing pumpkin bunting from the ceiling or turns up in a flammable costume that catches fire, potentially causing themselves serious harm or giving their colleagues an eyeful and an early scare.
To Wiccans, Samhain (the beginning of winter) is a Pagan festival so demands for a day off should be treated in line with any other religion. Day of the Dead-style festivities are not considered appropriate on what is the most somber day of the year so there should be no pressure on employees from these creeds to take part, otherwise claims of workplace bullying could arise.
Paman says: “Halloween is one of those celebrations which some people embrace and others reject. If you choose to mark it in the workplace then you need to be sensitive to everyone’s views.
“Pranks and behaviour should still be appropriate to the workplace, even if your entire staff is dressed as Morticia and Uncle Fester. Mostly it comes down to common sense, but you would be well advised to set out a few guidelines to ensure that everyone has fun at work. There’s no need to over police any ghoulish gags, but an informal meeting reminding staff of the boundaries or issuing a memo would be wise.”