It’s October, and while it doesn’t feel like fall in Southern California, it is the time of the year for office Halloween parties.
Some offices choose to avoid potential legal issues by skipping holiday parties altogether, including Halloween parties. However, some more festive employers look at Halloween and other holidays as an opportunity for team-building. If you fall into the second camp, you should be thinking about two legal concerns: (i) should the party be company-sponsored; and (ii) how can your company best minimize any potential risks (discrimination, harassment, etc…) associated with the party?
First, consider sending out party guidelines on appropriate costume-wear. Certain costumes may be seen as polarizing or offensive, posing safety risks, and more. If you are allowing your employees to dress up on Halloween, it is important to clearly state a zero-tolerance policy on costumes that could lead to claims of racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination and/or sexual harassment.
Next, remember that not all employees will take the same view of Halloween as you do. Given the origins of the holidays (stemming from an ancient Celtic festival where it was believed that those who died in the preceding year were said to come back, seeking bodies to possess), some employees may categorize Halloween as a pagan holiday. As an employer in California, it is important to remember that the law requires that you remain sensitive towards all employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs. For example, if an employee notifies a supervisor or HR that they are unable to attend the event due to sincerely held religious beliefs, you have an obligation to reasonably accommodate that employee’s request.
For some, Halloween is a time to let out their inner sex symbol. Therefore, before the party, remind employees of the company’s sexual harassment and dress code policies. Remember, while it may be a fun event, the party is also a work-related function and observance of all state and federal harassment and discrimination laws is mandatory.
Celebrating Halloween as an office can be a morale-boosting event. It is important for an employer to carefully consider if hosting a workplace Halloween party and encouraging employees to dress up is the right decision for their company.
If your company does host a Halloween party, consider implementing straightforward guidelines stating costumes must not be:
(i) sexually inappropriate;
(ii) offensive based on age, sex or sexual orientation, religion, national origin, race or other protected group.
To discuss Halloween or holiday party guidelines at your office, contact experienced employment attorney Drew E. Pomerance today.