A re-cap from last year... #bewareofsexybacon
Consider this blog post part of a segment called "101 Ways to Get Sued." Halloween is upon us and with it comes people dressed like "Sexy Bacon" and murderous villains from our favorite movies. It seems like nowadays almost every single halloween costume is offensive to someone and as humorous as a offensive can be, allowing said costumes into the workplace is a workplace harassment claim waiting to happen. You may not have to get rid of the Halloween party altogether but you may want to have people dress up like themselves as opposed to one of these.
The EEOC defines workplace harassment very broadly. Harassment includes verbal or physical conduct that explicitly or implicitly "affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment." Not all harassment needs to be sexual in order to count. In fact, you can essentially harass anyone about anything because the key word is "offensive." Since employees all have their own beliefs, lifestyles, appearances, and thresholds, it is impossible to know what is going to offend certain people. From an HR standpoint, this is way we try to avoid everything that may offend someone and why HR people get the reputation for being the "Vampires-of-Fun" (since we suck all the fun and humor out of work).
So my lesson for Halloween is this: Celebrate without costumes. By eliminating the common source of harassment, you should help keep your company out of a harassment lawsuit. Also, consider making attendance at any company-sponsored Halloween party 100% optional. That way those employees who are anti-Halloween don't feel obligated to attend and won't be offended by the celebration of ghouls and goblins. Halloween can still be fun (and even funny) but the costumes need to remain safe at home for the really fun Halloween parties on Saturday, 10/31.
Want more info about workplace harassment and/or planning an HR-friendly party? I'm only an email away // firstname.lastname@example.org.