Halloween Costumes in the Workplace: Fun Bonding or Scary Nightmare?

Karina B. Sterman, Esq., Partner, Employment Law Department

Unless you run Disneyland or an establishment for exotic dancers, your workplace is probably not used to its employees wearing masks, fake blood or scanty suggestive outfits. Not only is your company not used to it, but it probably expressly prohibits such conduct in the “dress code” and “personal grooming” sections of the employment handbook.

Notwithstanding the best intended policies, however, year after year businesses struggle with allowing Halloween costumes at work or not. Well, let us throw in some sweets (and sours) for thought before you unwittingly find out about your assistant’s sexy doctor side:

  • Consider whether your business can tolerate outlandish attire. If you’re in retail, perhaps not. If you’re in service, consider your clients and their reactions. If you’re in manufacturing, consider OSHA and all those pesky safety requirements that don’t lapse just because it’s Halloween.
  • Remind your employees that parts of the dress code and the entirety of your policy against harassment apply, even during Halloween. That means no naked Tarzan, no bikini-clad mermaid and probably no grown-man-as-baby-in-a-diaper. Encourage creativity that does not rely on smut, offensive visual puns, or race-baiting. Suggest that employees get their costumes pre-approved with management before appearing in them, and strongly suggest that employees bring a change of clothes. Just in case.
  • Designate some unfortunate person as the fun police and make sure that this person has the authority to enforce and actually does enforce your policies. Employees wearing inappropriate or insensitive costumes may have to be required to change into their regular clothes or sent home.
  • Keep your ears open the next day and brace yourself. Outrageous or offensive costumes will undoubtedly be discussed after the fact and, unfortunately, management’s designated kill-joy will now have to deal with the legal fall-out.

Good luck and good candy to all!

This blog is presented under protest by the law firm of Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP. It is essentially the random thoughts and opinions of someone who lives in the trenches of the war that often is employment law–he/she may well be a little shell-shocked. So if you are thinking “woohoo, I just landed some free legal advice that will fix all my problems!”, think again. This is commentary, people, a sketchy overview of some current legal issue with a dose of humor, but commentary nonetheless; as if Dennis Miller were a lawyer…and still mildly amusing. No legal advice here; you would have to pay real US currency for that (unless you are my mom, and even then there are limits). But feel free to contact us with your questions and comments—who knows, we might even answer you. And if you want to spread this stuff around, feel free to do so, but please keep it in its present form (‘cause you can’t mess with this kind of poetry). Big news: Copyright 2015. All rights reserved; yep, all of them.

If you have any questions about this article, contact the writer directly, assuming he or she was brave enough to attach their name to it. If you have any questions regarding this blog or your life in general, contact Kelly O. Scott, Esq., commander in chief of this blog and Head Honcho (official legal title) of ECJ’s Employment Law Department, at (310) 281-6348 or kscott@ecjlaw.com.