Halloween in the Workplace: HR Headache or Just a Bit of Harmless Fun?

Home Misconduct Halloween in the Workplace: HR Headache or Just a Bit of Harmless Fun?
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As we approach that time of year when pumpkins become more than just ingredients for soup and coffin-themed confectionery starts making its way into supermarkets, it’s clear that Halloween is upon us. But what does that mean for the celebration of Halloween in the workplace?

While it’s big business for some and a bit of lighthearted fun for others, let’s explore the “boos and don’ts” of creating a festive and harmonious Halloween workplace. (WARNING! More bad puns to follow.)

In this article, we will explore some common challenges and considerations for your 2023 Halloween celebrations in the workplace.

Trick or Treat? Avoiding HR Nightmares

Keep Halloween a treat and avoid tribunal tricks by ensuring that the office joker doesn’t get carried away with Halloween activities at work.

Halloween pranks at work and practical jokes are rife, but humour is subjective, and the potential for the ‘joke’ to get lost in translation could lead to employment disputes, including claims of bullying and harassment.

No one wants to be the ‘fun police, but get ahead and redistribute your disciplinary rules and procedures to remind staff of the standards of conduct required both at work and online.

It is also important that if any employees do raise concerns with regard to any Halloween office party games or Halloween-related activities, their concerns are properly addressed in line with the company grievance procedure and staff are not fobbed off or labelled as oversensitive.

Is Halloween Discriminatory? Celebrating While Respecting Differences

Halloween is celebrated widely across the UK and has grown in popularity in recent years. However, it is worth remembering that for some people, Halloween is associated with the occult, and some religions frown upon the celebration of Halloween.

This doesn’t mean that Halloween workplace celebrations should be banned, but it is important to be as inclusive as possible. Employers could ask their workforce for their views on Halloween activities at work and ensure that any involvement is optional.

Employers should be sensitive to the fact that some people simply do not wish to celebrate Halloween in the workplace and be flexible when it comes to allowing people to take annual leave or have the option of working from home where possible.

Religious Leave for Halloween: Balancing Traditions and Work

Can staff insist on time off for Halloween for religious reasons? For some people, Halloween has important cultural and religious significance. The origins of Halloween are disputed, but it can be traced back to All Hallows Eve, or All Saints Day, which is a Christian festival, and the Celtic festival of Samhain, a pagan festival to welcome the harvest, where people would wear costumes and light fires to scare away the spirits. Today, October 31st, is also a celebrated Wiccan holiday.

Under the Equality Act, religion and belief are protected characteristics, which includes Paganism. In 2013, a Wiccan employee was successful in her claim for discrimination after she was dismissed when she changed her shift to be able to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve.

Costume Conundrums: The Thin Line Between Fun and Offense

Every year, there is general outrage at a Halloween fancy dress outfit for sale or a horror story (sorry) of someone turning up in a workplace Halloween costume or a social event that is highly offensive.

The following are genuine fancy dress outfits available at a very popular online retailer at the time of writing:

  • Dictator costume (various options were available)
  • Jesus costume
  • A giant condom
  • ‘Fake Sheikh’ outfit
  • Rabbi costume
  • Women’s Burka
  • COVID virus
  • The Only Gay in the Village costume
  • Mr. World costume
  • A straight jacket

It’s pretty clear why the above would be problematic anywhere, but they are especially inappropriate as workplace costume ideas. In addition to shop-bought workplace Halloween costume ideas, homemade fancy dress outfits can also cause offence; for example, outfits that reference recent political world events, high-profile crimes, or recent disasters.

Although it isn’t just Halloween outfits that could cause problems, it is also makeup.

Along with some dodgy workplace Halloween costume ideas comes the issue of makeup. For example, it is never appropriate to use blackface, and some Halloween makeup, such as those depicting injury or death, could be very upsetting to those who have recently been bereaved.

Here is what employers can do to avoid HR horrors:

It’s important to ensure that staff are made aware that any workplace costume ideas should not contravene rules on equality and diversity. They should also be workplace-appropriate from the perspective of decency and not be too revealing.

It is a good idea to give examples of the types of workplace Halloween costume ideas that are unacceptable and redistribute company rules relating to conduct and diversity, making clear that anyone presenting for work in an outfit that is inappropriate will be dealt with in accordance with the company disciplinary procedure.

Finally, if you’re offering a prize for the best Halloween workplace outfit, aim to be as inclusive as possible. A bottle of wine will not be suitable for those who do not drink, and if you are offering an extra day of annual leave, make sure you stipulate when it must be taken. For those who don’t want to take part in fancy dress and Halloween activities at work, maybe offer the opportunity for them to dress down for the day instead.

Preventing Health and Safety Horrors This Halloween

The Health and Safety at Work Act sets out the legal requirements for employers to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their workforce.

These responsibilities do not disappear like a ghostly apparition just because it’s Halloween. Halloween office games and fancy dress in some workplaces will not be appropriate on the grounds of health and safety. For example, in environments where machinery is being used, fancy dress outfits can be very dangerous.

Also, many fancy dress costumes purchased online may not be made to the same standards as other items of clothing, meaning they are highly flammable and, therefore, potentially unsafe in environments such as kitchens.

Similarly, certain Halloween activities at work associated with the celebrations, such as pumpkin carving, where sharp knives are used, or decorations using a naked flame, are clearly not going to be workplace-appropriate.

Decorations such as webs, strings of lights, or other freestanding items such as mummies, skeletons, etc., may present trip hazards or fire risks if not used or secured properly.

Then there is the duty placed on employees to ensure they do not act in a way that places the safety of themselves or others at risk. Certain Halloween office party games, dressing like a zombie, Halloween pranks at work, like hiding behind the filing cabinet and jumping out at the company accountant with a heart condition or pulling Sandra’s chair out from under her after she’s just had a hip replacement is fraught with obvious problems. Employees should be continually reminded of their health and safety responsibilities, especially at this time of year.

Enjoy Halloween in the workplace by all means, but don’t forget to assess the risk properly to avoid serious accidents or worse!

And finally…

While Halloween in the workplace can be a time for fun and bonding, it’s crucial to maintain a balance between enjoyment and responsibility. By being sensitive to employees’ diverse beliefs and ensuring that safety and decorum are upheld, workplaces can enjoy Halloween without any “HR horrors.”

Avensure’s experts are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for all your ghoulish, Halloween-related queries and beyond. For advice, guidance and support, please contact our employment team. Simply click here: Avensure Contact!