Type: Law Bulletins
Date: 10/26/2017

Halloween at Work: Costumes, Call-Offs and Celebrations, Oh My!

With Halloween approaching, employers will undoubtedly face a variety of issues related to costumes, celebrations and employees who call off work. Although employers do not need to adopt a specific Halloween policy addressing every possible issue, HR and supervisors should review the company’s existing policies, including policies concerning dress code, employee absences, misconduct and harassment.

When it comes to scaring employers and HR personnel on Halloween, ghosts and monsters are nothing compared to employees wearing inappropriate or offensive costumes to work. Employers should consider the work environment (i.e., health care facilities, food preparations, etc.) and the potential effects on customer interactions when determining whether to allow employees to wear costumes to work. If the employer does allow costumes at work, employee participation should always be voluntary and there should be clear guidelines that remind employees to use professional judgment and avoid offensive or inappropriate costumes.

Holidays often create problems for employers when employees call off work at the last minute or want to leave work early. This year, Halloween falls on a Tuesday, so employees may be tempted to call off work after a late night out on Monday or Tuesday. Employers should review their absenteeism policy in advance of any holiday and ensure any employee who calls off follows the company’s procedures — including any procedures that call for advance notice to a supervisor or a doctor’s note. Employers should also review their paid time off policy and ensure that employees follow the required procedures. Employees who fail to follow these policies should be disciplined consistent with the policy.

If an employer decides to have a Halloween party or other event, such as trick-or-treating in the office, they should ensure that the diverse opinions and beliefs about Halloween are respected and that no employee feels pressured to participate in any Halloween-themed event. For example, employees should not be singled out or excluded if they choose not to dress in costume. Before the event, remind employees that even though it’s a Halloween party, it is still a work event and all policies apply.

The best way to prevent an HR scare this Halloween is to follow these best practices:

  • All Halloween-themed celebrations or events should be voluntary, and no employee should feel pressured to participate.
  • If costumes are permitted, remind employees to be mindful of diverse religious and political beliefs. Employees should also avoid costumes that are sexually provocative, violent in nature, gruesome or could be considered offensive by other employees or customers.
  • If an employee tells a supervisor that they are unable to attend the celebration or participate in a voluntary Halloween-themed event due to religious beliefs, the employer should accommodate that request and allow the employee to not participate. 
  • Other religious-based objections related to Halloween observances should be addressed like any other request for a religious accommodation. 
  • All company policies and disciplinary measures should be applied consistently, especially those pertaining to anti-harassment, attendance and call-off procedures.

This law update was co-authored by Taft partner Carolyn Davis with contributions from Taft’s Devin Spencer.

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