Employers should take precautions to avoid getting spooked when office parties brew trouble. Even though workplace celebrations can have benefits, they can also conjure up more harm than good for human resource executives and in-house counsel.
Without a plan, Halloween office parties could potentially result in claims of harassment and discrimination, as well as a loss in productivity. In fact, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s 2013 performance report, harassment and discrimination cost American companies $372.1 million last year.
“In today’s litigious workplace, Halloween costumes may pose serious risks to employers, especially if the controversial costume is worn by someone in management,” says Michael V. Abcarian, managing partner of the Dallas office of Fisher & Phillips, a national labor and employment law firm.
Abcarian continues, “The costume you wear out with friends might not be appropriate in the workplace. In the past few years, we have seen an uptick in issues and questions from clients about Halloween costuming.”
Costumes that are sexually provocative, carry a political or social message, or are simply inappropriate for interacting with co-workers and customers, may lead to a liability nightmare for employers.
The proper planning of a Halloween event will lessen such risks. Employers should review the following tips when planning a Halloween office party:
• Decide if costumes are appropriate for the workplace.
• Clearly communicate costume guidelines in advance.
• Remind employees they are still at work, despite the holiday overtone.
• Don't overreact, but be sensitive to the issues.
• Consider any feedback the company received from employees or customers concerning last year's
Halloween party or employee costumes.
• Offer alternative celebrations.
• Be prepared to discipline for misconduct, if necessary.
With these thoughts in mind, employers should be able to take the fear out of such festivities.
About Fisher & Phillips LLP (www.laborlawyers.com)
Fisher & Phillips LLP is a national law firm committed to providing practical business solutions for employers’ workplace legal problems. Labor and employment law is all the firm does, offering deep and broad knowledge and experience in the area of the law the attorneys know best. Fisher & Phillips attorneys help clients avoid legal problems, are dedicated to providing exceptional client service, and are there when you need them. The firm has 300 attorneys in 31 offices. In addition to Dallas, the offices are in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbia, Columbus, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Gulfport, Houston, Irvine, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Memphis, New England, New Jersey, New Orleans, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Tampa, and Washington, D.C.