HR – Take the Spooky Out of Halloween at Your Workplace

It’s a spooky time of year for employers. Halloween parties are in full swing with potentially offensive costumes and themes. (Not to mention that your employees have full access to liquor and social media!) Here are some examples of ‘employees gone wild’ on Halloween – and some suggestions for more treats, fewer tricks.

Halloween Costumes – What You Wear on Social Media Can Get You Fired

Off-site Celebration and Facebook:

This party took place in a private home, but when a racially charged photo was posted online, it went viral.

TRICK: Two Florida men attended a Halloween party dressed as Trevon Martin and George Zimmerman. The woman in the photo posted it on Facebook with the caption “Happy Halloween from Zimmerman & Trayvon.” An immediate firestorm began. Angry social media users discovered who her employer was and contacted them to report the post. The woman’s employer fired her after hearing about the photo and the backlash she was receiving on social media.

TREAT: Employees’ personal photos on social media can have unintended consequences for their employers. If employees do not want their personal lives impacting their professional lives, they should keep the two separate. For example: employees could omit the name of the company they work for in their profiles and not post photos of themselves at work or in their work uniforms.

On-site Celebration and Twitter:

A costume worn to a work party created social media repercussions.

TRICK: A woman in Michigan attended her work party dressed as a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing. She posted the picture on Twitter and Instagram. Once again, angry social media users fired back. However this time, the backlash turned nasty and included death threats made not only to her, but her family. The woman took to Twitter to apologize and to ask that people leave her family alone. She even tweeted that her employer had fired her as a result of the uproar the costume caused.

TREAT: The negative publicity on social media potentially made the employer look bad, forcing them to make a hard decision to terminate the employee. A stronger set of rules around work-sanctioned events could have prevented this unfortunate event.

Halloween Happy Hour – Too Ghoulish for Some

A seemingly innocent workplace happy hour left a ‘bad taste’ with employees.

TRICK: An HR manager in Washington, D.C. coordinated a Halloween happy hour in her company’s conference room. She decorated the room with cobwebs, spiders, black and orange decorations and candles. Two of the company’s employees refused to go into the conference room, because they believed Halloween celebrations are satanic. Because of their reaction to the happy hour, there have not been any further Halloween celebrations in that workplace.

TREAT: To help employees avoid potentially scary situations, let them participate in the planning of the event. Also send out notification well in advance so everyone knows what to expect.


Policies and Guidance

To keep workplace Halloween celebrations from crossing the line, be sure to set very clear guidelines about what types of costumes and decorations are allowed. Tie the fun in to the company culture, values or customer service ideals. Try to make the celebration more about having fun than about witches and ghouls.

Other Types of Halloween Celebrations

Instead of the typical office celebration, consider some of these alternatives:

  • Halloween-themed run/walk with prizes for the best kid’s or pet’s costume (while raising money for your favorite charity).
  • Hayride and apple-picking at an orchard.
  • Harvest festival with games and food.
  • Team-building volunteering to pack groceries at a charitable food bank.

These are ideas to help keep the “spirit” of Halloween alive, yet also to keep it tasteful – and can be opened up to employees’ families.

What Do You Think?

Do you think Halloween costumes have gone too far? Is there a ghost of a chance that your company still hosts Halloween events, or are you still haunted by Halloweens past?

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