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HR Corner: Halloween at work – Fun or frightening?


By Sara Ritter | October 10, 2017

Halloween activities can be fun and engaging but, there are some guidelines that employers should establish to keep celebrations from becoming too “frightening.”

Costumes, candy and trick-or-treating … Halloween is almost here! As children, many of us dressed as our favorite Saturday morning cartoon character or the scariest mythical creature we could think of and went door to door asking for sugary sweets. As adults, many of us still celebrate the holiday by outfitting our house with scary decorations or attending costume parties. Many workplaces get into the spirit with cubical decorating and costume contests. While these activities can be fun and engaging for employees, there are some guidelines that employers should establish to keep celebrations from becoming too “frightening.”

Costumes at work

Allowing employees to wear costumes to work is a fun and easy way to enhance employee camaraderie. However, employers should communicate a strict set of guidelines in advance. Reiterate that any costumes must comply with the company’s dress code, plus anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. Encourage employees to keep inclusion and diversity in mind when considering their costumes. You may want to provide examples. Costumes should not be too revealing or insensitive to others’ beliefs or values, nor should they be impractical and prevent employees from doing their jobs (such as a face mask for an employee required to be on the phone all day or a baggy ensemble for machinists). Employers with specific safety requirements may consider limiting or prohibiting any props that may accompany any costumes as well.

Halloween parties

Halloween parties can be a welcome activity for many employees, but they must be well-planned and well-supervised. If you serve alcohol, ensure that your company’s drug/alcohol and anti-harassment policies extend to these events and are strictly enforced. We have all heard horror stories of office parties gone awry due to the overconsumption of alcohol — make sure yours is not one of them. Ask for sober volunteers to monitor employees’ alcohol consumption and ensure you have a designated driver on hand. Ensure that all of these precautions are communicated to employees in advance so they are not caught off-guard at the party. Hiring a professional bartender who is trained to not overserve is a smart choice as well. Remember that costume guidelines apply here, too!

Discrimination concerns

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because of their race, color, sex, national origin and religion. Several states have also adopted additional protected classes such as sexual orientation, marital and/or veteran status. Because of this, employers must remain sensitive to their employees’ beliefs and as noted above should reiterate any policies they have in place regarding discrimination and harassment.

These guidelines mean that you should not require employees to participate in Halloween activities, nor should you ridicule or alienate an employee who decides not to. Employees may choose not to celebrate Halloween for many reasons, including religious beliefs. Additionally, any costumes that are sexually, racially, politically or religiously insensitive should be prohibited. If an employee is considering a costume that might be “on the edge,” encourage them to run their ideas by HR first to avoid any issues.

Halloween celebrations, when done right, can be a morale booster for the “end-of-summer blues” and provide a nice transition to holiday celebrations. Just keep in mind that any initiatives you take should be in line with your organizational goals, values and policies. Halloween can be a fun or frightening time for employers — ensure yours brings out the fun!

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