More than 37 percent of employees celebrate Halloween with their co-workers, according to a survey conducted by Vault.com. If you are among those employers who will have some type of Halloween celebration at work, here are some things to consider:
• Decorate with care. After having decorated a conference room at her Washington D.C. law firm with cobwebs, spiders, and glowing candles, HR Manager Carol Fitzgerald was shocked when two employees refused to enter the room because they considered celebrating Halloween to be “devil worship.” Fitzgerald put a stop to Halloween celebrations at work after that incident, but that’s not necessary. Asking employees how they feel about certain decorations or just sticking to a harvest theme can help to ensure that no one is offended.
• Ensure costumes stay within dress code standards. Allowing employees to dress in sexy outfits, gory costumes, or clothing that makes political or social statements is risky as that attire might be offensive to others. Even if the costume is not offensive, it could lead to behavior that is. For example, wearing a revealing costume might prompt others to make inappropriate jokes or comments that could lead to a sexual harassment claim, and “he or she asked for it by wearing the costume” is not a good legal defense.
• Maintain a professional atmosphere. Allowing employees to play tricks on others in the form of practical jokes can lead to conflict among co-workers. In her etiquette guidebook for employees, Barbara Pachter tells the story of an employee who put a Whoopee cushion on a co-worker’s chair during a training session. According to Pachter, “The man who sat on it was mortified and refused to work on a team with the practical joker.”
• Allow employees to opt out. All holiday celebrations should be optional and employees should not feel pressured to participate nor uncomfortable for not participating.
If you’re now tempted to forgo any type of holiday festivities for fear of litigation or mayhem, keep in mind that events such as Halloween celebrations can actually benefit the workplace. Gail Howerton, an organizational development practitioner, says that the rapport built among co-workers during the festivities helps to break down barriers among them and instills more humanity into the workplace. “People remember these experiences,” she says. “It’s a continuation of a feeling you want in the workplace all year long.”
Employers need not be afraid of allowing employees to have some fun in honor of All Hallow’s Eve. Adhering to the guidelines above can help ensure that your celebration is a treat for all concerned.