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Costumes are no longer what they used to be. This All Hallow’s Eve, here’s how to keep your workplace out of legal trouble.

Halloween at Work: Don't Make It Too Scary

Remember when a sheet with eye holes was considered an excellent Halloween costume?

Many of the costume options available on the market now appear substantially different and, well, are not as innocent as in previous decades. What do you do as a company owner when the costumes at the workplace party seem like they belong at a nightclub?

When I was in elementary school, each class was given three parties each year; Halloween was my favourite. Everyone dressed up and received sweets; no one complained about the Christian overtones or the fact that Timmy didn’t get a Valentine from Jane. Unfortunately, Halloween seems to have lost its purity as I’ve gotten older. Every year, it becomes increasingly difficult to find a costume without the word “sexy” in the title (sexy nun…really?) or a person who truly means “candy” when asking for a treat.

As a company owner, I’m sure you want to provide all of your workers a fun, non-controversial Halloween. But, before you announce the next office costume contest, take a deep breath…be cautious…and be ready.

Is a Costume Party Worth the Risk?

I’m not arguing that costume parties are terrible or should be prohibited.

However, if you leave it up to the people, you may end up with a bit more than you bargained for. So, consider a few things and apply these notions to assist your staff towards a safe and enjoyable experience.

  1. Understand your industry and make allowances for deviations.

Allowing dress-up on work days may make your company seem unprofessional. Meetings, for example, would most likely take longer when everyone is laughing (or cringing) at people dressed up. Those that routinely deal with overseas firms (who, guess what, may not even know what Halloween is) may wish to avoid it, or at the very least warn their guests. Costumes may mislead customers at retail businesses, so make sure your team members can still be identified. “Is nobody working here today?” no one wants to hear.

  1. Use the term “tasteful” in the announcement if you can get away with it.

Have a costume party and let people enjoy themselves, but please make it clear that offensive costumes will not be accepted. Spread the word that if you have any concerns, just visit a supervisor, and make sure your supervisors are aware of when to come to you. A little forethought may go a long way toward avoiding a misunderstanding. But let me be clear: there is no hard and fast rule on where the boundary should be drawn. Sure, there are some costumes that are clearly inappropriate, but more often than not, you will be confronted with a grey area. Make a choice, share it, listen to feedback, then enforce your conclusion. After all, you are the boss.

  1. Sexual harassment laws do not take a vacation break.

A seductive outfit is one thing, and it’s rather obvious. However, if one of your workers chooses to “play out” his Dirty Secret Service suit and abuse someone in the workplace, you will be informed in the complaint.

  1. The same is true for hostile work environment legislation

Allowing costumes that cross a boundary, particularly political and religious costumes, or costumes that make fun of a protected class, might give your coworkers the impression that you don’t care about the regulations.

Keeping Halloween alive Everyone has a good time.

If you’re worried that some of your workers may mistake “adult” Halloween with “work” Halloween, here are a few pointers to help you remain on track and avoid being labelled as the Grinch who stole Halloween (I know, I’m mixing my holidays, but you get the idea!).

This Halloween, consider the following suggestions:

Costumes are not permitted (obviously!). If you still want to be the “fun boss,” have some novelty accessories (such as animal ears, vampire fangs, moustaches on a stick, and so on) ready for everyone on Halloween (along with sweets! ), so you can keep control while they can dress up.

Set rules and convey them ahead of time. It’s also a good moment to remind everyone of the company’s anti-sexual harassment and tolerance policy. Examples:

“Employees must follow the current dress code or wear uniforms.” This often restricts costumes to accessories such as wigs and spectacles.

“No low-cut or super-short attire, political, alcoholic, or drug-related themes…” You get the idea… Maintain a refined appearance.

Have a “pre-themed” Halloween party, such as a military, Wild West, aliens, or Charlie Brown party. Alternatively, have folks dress up like their favourite celebrity.

Inform all of your personnel that they must carry a regular change of clothing in case the company demands it (you can also use this if any costume is offensive).

Make rules for your children. Consider allowing children to trick or treat (give candy) at your workplace; adults appear to edit themselves better when they know children will see them.

If necessary, be prepared to take disciplinary action. It wouldn’t be the first time someone was dismissed because of a costume. Just be sure you practise the discipline on a regular basis.

Finally, if you haven’t already freaked out…try not to worry too much. Most individuals are aware of the line and are careful not to cross it. Even if they do, as long as you have control over the situation, you may avoid possible claims by being alert, participating, and speaking out. I’m not sure about you, but I’m thinking of dressing up as the invisible guy this year… How would you know I’m not at work?