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In general, it is best to avoid a policy that requires employees to dress up for Halloween. While implementing a dress-up policy is not automatically illegal, it can make employees who do not want to participate uncomfortable and can cause potential legal issues. We will cover some of the main problems that Halloween costumes can create below.

Religious Concerns

Dressing up for Halloween or celebrating Halloween at all can be against some employees' religions. As a result, a seemingly harmless mandated costume contest might actually violate your employees' rights to religious freedom. If you are going to require costumes, you need to make some adjustments to account for religious preferences. And if you want to have a costume contest, you may want to make participation voluntary.

Reimbursement for Costumes

Believe it or not, a mandated costume policy could be considered a required uniform in some situations. This is important because some states require that employers reimburse employees for uniforms. That means that your costume contest could cost you more than just prize money if participation is mandatory.

Safety Concerns

In some industries, wearing a costume to work is simply not a safe thing to do. Having a floppy hat might compromise a worker's vision and bulky gloves may make it hard for someone to use their hands. You need to be sure that costumes do not violate mandated safety requirements and allow your workers to do their job in a safe and effective manner.

What Halloween activities are appropriate for the workplace?

As long as your Halloween activities are voluntary and do not compromise safety, you have a lot of freedom when it comes to how to celebrate. Below are a few quick ideas.

  • Guess the weight of the pumpkin (or other guessing games).
  • Spooky scavenger hunts.
  • Team costume contests (subject to the above concerns).
  • Halloween decorating.
  • Volunteer opportunities.
  • Potlucks.
  • Time away from work.
  • Pumpkin painting.
  • Halloween-themed treat bags.
  • Halloween trivia questions.

Allowing your team to come up with their own activities is a good way to improve team spirit and increase the likelihood that everyone will be on board.

What should I do about employees who do not want to celebrate Halloween? 

Ultimately, forcing employees to participate in Halloween activities is bad for morale. Instead, try to come up with activities that would work well without full participation. If you need to know how many participants you will have in order to properly plan an event, consider sending around a survey to gauge interest or asking employees to RSVP. If an employee does not want to participate, they do not have to provide a reason. Everyone is different, and all employees should be able to opt out of holiday-related activities.

Sometimes using a Halloween theme that ties into your corporate culture can be a good way to encourage participation. In some cases, if employees see that there is a benefit (like team building or getting to know their co-workers), they will be more likely to participate.

Is there such a thing as too much Halloween spirit in the workplace?

There is a balance between having fun on Halloween and going over the top. You may want to set some guidelines and clear expectations from the beginning to prevent problems down the road. For example, if you are encouraging employees to dress in costumes, create written policies and guidelines for those costumes. Example guidelines might include:

  • No political or religious costumes.
  • Keep costume themes family friendly.
  • Be sure that your costume does not inhibit your ability to work.
  • You must be able to both stand and sit down in your costume.
  • Avoid costumes that coworkers or clients are likely to find offensive.

If you put up Halloween decorations, make sure they do not inhibit movement around the office or create fire code violations.

How can I address or prevent Halloween vandalism?

While it is rare that trick-or-treaters actually resort to tricks, it does happen. Along with the family friendly and fun part of Halloween, there can be some unsavory nighttime activities, including vandalism and littering. While employees may not be to blame, having terms in your Employee Handbook about zero-tolerance for vandalism can help prevent a lot of issues before they start.

Discouraging others from vandalism can be a bit harder. However, sometimes being active in the community can prevent vandalism. When community members have a positive view of your organization, they are less likely to harm your space. Minimally, businesses that are open to the public may want to consider having candy on hand to pass out to customers and trick-or-treaters.

If crime is a serious concern in your area generally, or just on Halloween, you may want to consider putting up security cameras and signs stating that you will prosecute anyone caught vandalizing the property.

What should I do if a customer or employee is injured by a Halloween decoration or trick?

Before engaging in any Halloween activity, you may want to have employees and customers sign an Activity Release of Liability. Having this type of waiver can prevent a lot of problems long before they arise.

If an employee or customer is injured, get the appropriate help first. Then, be prepared to document the incident and to report it to your insurance company immediately so they can help you address the issue. 

To learn more about the legal aspects of celebrating Halloween at your workplace, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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