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Halloween and work: Avoid costumes, behavior that threatens your job, reputation

Trick or treat? Halloween is a fun experience for kids and families. But is it appropriate for the workplace? On the eve of Halloween it's important professionals think long and hard before making a costly decision come Halloween, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013.

There's no doubt Halloween can be more trick than treat for the nation’s employers, who must approach the annual holiday with an eye toward the potential pitfalls. For some employers the pitfalls, ranging from complaints of inappropriate costumes to lost productivity, outweigh the potential positive effects on employee morale, says workplace expert John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Some, however, may embrace the holiday, encouraging employees to wear costumes, bring candy to hand out, or even allow workers with kids to leave early to be home for trick-or-treating. Most employers, though, simply do not give any thought to having a policy on Halloween, which could prove to be a costly oversight, says Challenger.

A 2007 survey by Vault.com found that 37 percent of employees celebrate Halloween with co-workers, and 27 percent dress in costume.

“This can be great for building camaraderie and morale, but there definitely are some risks," says Challenger.

Challenger points out that a racially insensitive or naughty nurse costume could open the company to sexual harassment and hostile work environment claims. Others may be politically - literally - incorrect. Others could just be distracting to co-workers, clients or customers who may be ready for some real business and not see this type of celebrating as professional. One Facebook post showed a woman dressed as a ham sandwich at work. Now that may be a funny costume for some, but throughout the course of the day, does the fun wear off and it becomes a distraction? Can your clients take you seriously when you are an adult dressed up for what is regarded as a kids holiday?

Certain costumes may also present safety risks in a plant or warehouse while some people are just plain offended by the entire celebration of Halloween due to religious beliefs.

"It is critical that companies be aware of the risks,” said Challenger.

Employers need to consider a number of factors when addressing Halloween celebrations in the workplace:

  • What are the pitfalls associated with Halloween celebrations in the workplace?
  • How should employers and employees handle a costume that could be considered inappropriate or offensive?
  • How can employers strike a balance between creating a fun work environment and one that doesn’t put the company at risk?

Those are considerations employers, HR professionals and supervisors everywhere are dealing with. Policies should be implemented and employers should be aware of company policies and standards heading into Halloween. This should be discussed well in advance and as regular communication with employees regarding holiday celebrations.

Halloween is a fun time for many, but it should be left to kids, or celebrated away from work or working hours. It's good to have fun in the workplace, but not at the risk of ruining your professional reputation, being a distraction or worst of all, risk losing your job. Don't sacrifice your future for a few laughs on Halloween. If so, you might not even have to dress up when you take the kids out - you'll just be going as an unemployed job seeker - and that's a costume no one wants to wear.