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Make Sure Your Halloween Party Doesn’t Turn Into a Scary Nightmare!

Christine Batten, PHR
by Christine Batten, PHR on October 15, 2015

Make Sure Your Halloween Party Doesn’t Turn Into a Scary Nightmare!Halloween can be a fun time for kids and adults alike. If you plan to celebrate with your employees, you should establish some clear guidelines so you don’t scare off any employees and your party doesn’t become a fright show.

We understand it’s the one day of the year when the normal rules about what to wear to work may not necessarily apply, but inevitably, people end up inadvertently crossing lines that may offend or insult their coworkers. So without taking all the fun out of dressing up or celebrating, here are some tips about costumes and decorations.

Costume and Decoration Tips

Don’t wear a costume that’s too revealing or sexually provocative/suggestive. There are plenty of cute, fun Halloween costumes out there but work is not the place to dress up as a naughty nurse or a sexy  anything. Your co-workers shouldn’t see any more of your body or skin at work than they do at any other time. Likewise, men should not wear anything sexually suggestive. No matter how funny you think it is, work-related events are not the time to joke about it.

Don’t wear a costume that related to racist themes or ethnic groups. Costumes that are depictions of another ethnic group are not OK, and neither is dressing up as a member of any group that has been oppressed. That means, for example, American Indian or geisha costumes should be avoided. Likewise blackface is widely understood in the U.S. to be offensive, so steer clear of that and any other racially insensitive Halloween costumes. It doesn’t matter if you’re “just kidding”… just don’t.

Don’t ask others why they didn’t dress up. Not everyone enjoys dressing up for Halloween, and some religious groups (or individuals) do not celebrate holidays (or Halloween specifically). Sometimes it seems harmless to poke fun at people who don't dress up for “not getting into the spirit” but if someone didn’t dress up, he or she certainly doesn't want to be given a hard time about it – and their reason for not participating is none of your business.

Don’t wear a costume or makeup that is truly horrifying. Understandably the thought of Halloween brings ideas of ghosts, ghouls and goblins but wearing exceptionally frightening costumes or masks can be truly disturbing to some people. Likewise, you don’t want to wear something so graphic that it could gross out your co-workers.

Don’t wear a costume to work that would make it difficult to interact with others or would become a safety issue. Be cautious of masks or costumes that would interfere with your general activities or interactions with others. As fun as dressing up for Halloween can be, your main goal at work is still to get work done. Likewise, if your costume could become a safety hazard (if you work with certain machinery, around open flames, etc.) you should consider bowing out of the costume contest. If your costume is interfering with work, it might be better saved for an after-work party.

Some employers also allow employees to decorate their workspaces or participate in other fun activities which should also include similar guidance:

  • Decorations should not violate fire or safety codes.
  • Employees should be responsible for clean-up after the event/holiday.
  • Decorations should be office appropriate and not offensive to co-workers and peers.
  • If there is pumpkin carving… well… knives = potential danger.

The above tips are not just about courtesy, decency and safety, although those are certainly important. Employers have a legal responsibility to ensure their workplaces don’t constitute a hostile environment for employees on the basis of protected classes, which include race, ethnicity, gender and national origin.

Tips if You Choose to Serve Alcohol

Absent inappropriate costumes, most holiday party misconduct is related to over-consumption of alcohol. If you choose to serve alcohol at your party, consider these tips:

  • Remind employees that normal rules of conduct apply to parties, and to drink responsibly;
  • Arrange for designated drivers, reduced cab fares or hotel room rates or even offer to pay or reimburse alcohol-impaired employees for cab fare (or hotel) expenses;
  • Tell employees attendance is not required;
  • Provide employees with a limited number of drink tickets;
  • Limit the length of the party and close the bar one hour before the end of the party;
  • Serve non-alcoholic beverages also;
  • Do not serve punch or other concoctions that mask alcoholic content;
  • Provide food and entertainment to prevent drinking from being the focus of the party;
  • Serve foods that slow the assimilation of alcohol (i.e., those high in protein or starch) and not greasy or salty foods that encourage more consumption of liquids;
  • Have the party off-site at a professionally managed facility with bartenders who are trained to limit harm or liability;
  • Don’t allow employees to tend bar or provide alcohol;
  • Designate a responsible person to “monitor” the party and work with the event staff;
  • Schedule the party on a week night when employees are less likely to over-indulge;
  • Hire an off-duty policeman or security specialist to be present during and after the party;
  • Make sure underage employees or guests are not served alcohol;
  • Review your insurance policies for alcohol-related exclusions.

While you can’t completely eliminate the risk of liability arising from parties, by planning appropriately you can reduce liability – and continue to celebrate!

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Christine Batten, PHR
Christine Batten, PHR

Christine has over 20 years of HR related experience with a background in labor and employment law.