Halloween celebrations at work

October 8, 2022

As employees return to the workplace, Halloween celebrations at work are back on, and most employees surveyed are ready to party. It’s time to start planning so that your office Halloween party doesn’t create your next workplace investigation.

Most important to remember and convey– the organization’s code of conduct, workplace violence, EEO and anti-harassment policies, as well as your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs, still apply even on Halloween.

Last year career site Zippia.com surveyed a thousand workers about their opinion on Halloween celebrations at work.

According to their survey, 77% of employees wanted an office Halloween party, although only 57% said their office planned to host one. That was last year during the pandemic. Things are much improved and more back to normal so this is likely much higher.

Make celebrations optional: Organizations need to respect that not everyone celebrates Halloween, or appreciates its ghoulish decorations or theme. In fact, the survey showed about a quarter of the workers surveyed said they did not enjoy workplace Halloween celebrations.

Some find Halloween religiously objectionable and it also can trigger people who have recently lost a loved one. No Halloween event should be mandatory, and those choosing not to celebrate should not be punished or mocked.

Employers should also be mindful that in the Spanish culture, Day of the Dead, a two-day holiday reuniting the living and the dead, is celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2.

Decorate appropriately: Decorations need to be respectful and should not depict blood or violence, death, or zombies.

Make it a fall festival: Workers surveyed said they most looked forward to food and candy at their office Halloween celebration. Consider a celebration centered around fun fall activities coupled with candied apples, pumpkin spice anything and lots of food and beverage. There is nothing prohibiting serving alcohol at an office event, but be mindful again of those who do not drink, those who have to drive and those who might take it too far. Set limits and hire a bartender.

Caution on costumes: While a third of those surveyed said they planned to dress up in a costume for Halloween, 14% of those surveyed said a coworker has dressed inappropriately for a work Halloween event. Inappropriate costumes included strippers, political figures and just generally showing a lot of skin.

As I train employees around the country on workplace civility, I hear frequently that people are too sensitive, and others will respond that we are finally respecting other people in the workplace and their concerns.

A costume is an opportunity to be someone else. This leads to reactions of misappropriation, racism, and other concerns.

For example, can a white person dress as Stevie Wonder? Can a man dress as a woman as a joke? Can a Black person dress as Pocahontas? Should anyone dress as Donald Trump or Joe Biden?

Each of these examples could trigger someone.

If costumes are acceptable for your Halloween celebration or on Halloween generally, consider a theme such as sports teams or superheroes.

There is no perfect advice because someone can be triggered by anything. The simple solution would be to prohibit costumes entirely. However, it has been a long two years, and employees are looking to bring joy and fun back into the workplace.

In this instance, set clear expectations around costumes, decorations, and the general celebration. Then, determine a person who will be the arbiter of what is appropriate. Make sure that person applies a “reasonable person” test in determining if someone is violating your workplace expectations.

Employees need to understand that if they cross the line, they could be disciplined. For example, a white employee dressing as Stevie Wonder who then paints his face Black — that person will be terminated.

Keep it classy. Keep it respectful. Have fun. Those things are not mutually exclusive.

And finally — as a forever rule in the workplace — if you can see up it, down it, or through it — don’t wear it.