What Risks Should Be Addressed When Planning the Office Halloween Party

119971123Halloween can be a fun opportunity for companies to strengthen their corporate culture and increase employee engagement. However, the holiday’s traditions, such as costumes and the trick or treat custom, naturally lend themselves to a few increased HR and compliance risks.

For example, say an employee shows up in an inappropriate costume, which in turn, triggers another employee to make an inappropriate remark. Next thing you know, you have a harassment complaint on your hands.

Fortunately, if employers consider the following factors when planning their Halloween festivities, they can significantly reduce their risks while still keeping the holiday’s fun spirit.

First, make it clear to employees that participation in any Halloween celebration is completely voluntary. This allows those who do not wish to celebrate to opt out without feeling uncomfortable.

Additionally, be mindful that Halloween has its roots in religion. Although many people celebrate the holiday now, Halloween was originally a Christian holiday known as All Saints Day or All Hallows that celebrates the passing of souls to heaven. Some employees may still see Halloween as a religious holiday and want the day off to observe. Plan how you will address such requests and update the company policies accordingly.

For all those planning to participate in the office festivities, remind them of the company’s policies. Although adults in the workplace should know what constitutes an appropriate Halloween costume, it doesn’t hurt to put a few guidelines in place. For example, remind employees that costumes should not reflect cultural stereotypes, impact anyone’s safety or incorporate toy weapons. If you’re particularly nervous, you may suggest a theme like “your favorite super hero.”

“Trick or treat” is synonymous with Halloween. However, it is the “trick” element of this adage that lends itself to increased workplace risks. Some employees may feel more inclined to play a prank, make jokes or send an insensitive email on the pretense that it’s part of celebrating Halloween and, therefore, it’s “OK.” Reiterate to employees a few days beforehand, whether through posters, a message on the company intranet or a message from the CEO, that the company has an “inclusive culture” and a “zero tolerance” policy for harassment.

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Some employees may want to bring their children into the workplace celebrations. If you decide to allow this, determine ahead of time if they will be compensated for this time and if all the proper safe precautions are in place. Do you need to update any of safety procedures accordingly?

Also, be aware that hosting a Halloween party off-site might encourage inappropriate behavior. When people are dressed up in costumes and celebrating at a more casual venue, like a restaurant or bar, it’s easy for employees to forget they’re still at a work function. This can cause some employees to behave in ways that might cross over from workplace appropriate behavior to inappropriate behavior, whether in the form of sexual innuendos, culturally insensitive remarks or fighting.

Considering these factors ahead of time will help prevent potential harassment and discrimination problems. Getting employees involved in the party planning is a great way to keep an eye on employee engagement, attitudes and behavior during the holiday.

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Jimmy Lin

Jimmy Lin
Jimmy Lin is vice president of product management and corporate development at The Network .

Jimmy Lin

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3 Responses to “What Risks Should Be Addressed When Planning the Office Halloween Party”

  1. KentClark1 says:

    I absolutely love Halloween parties! However, you are very correct when you talk about how examine the risks while planning it. I didn’t realize that some people still view it as a religious holiday. That will definitely be something to consider whenever I plan my office’s party next year. http://www.outwestpartyhire.com.au/tables_chairs_linen_dance_floor.html

  2. […] What Risks Should Be Addressed When Planning the Office Halloween Party, Jimmy Lin (The Network), The Staffing Stream, October 28, 2014. […]

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