How HR can avoid a nightmare this Halloween

How HR can avoid a nightmare this Halloween

Halloween offers the chance for employers to allow their workforce to have some fun.

However, such possibilities do create a myriad of potential problems for HR - especially when it comes to fancy dress.

Paman Singh, a Legal Advisor at Law at Work, gives his tips on how to make the process easier.

On ‘sexy costumes,’ he advises men not to dress up as a “peddler of women’s bodies.”

He also adds: “If you decide to allow a relaxed dress code, it’d be wise to send a reminder that appropriate attire is still expected. Skimpy, revealing costumes can lead to sexual harassment cases, so a Princess Leia gold slave bikini may be taking things too far.”

Outfits also have the capacity to shock. Celebrities have fallen foul of ill-timed attire in the past, most notably Prince Harry and Manchester United player Chris Smalling.

Singh says on the subject: “Staff also should not dress up as someone from a different race or religion – as they are not really dressing up as someone from another race or religion, what they’re doing is dressing up as a potentially incredibly offensive stereotype. ‘Blacking up’, ‘whiting… down’, just… why?!

“A few years ago the Department of Homeland Security had to launch an internal investigation after an employee turned up to a party in a costume comprising of dreadlocks, dark makeup and prison striped clothing. Take a moment, [and] indulge in a facepalm. Here’s a key tip; you may believe that it’s good, clean fun but if you think your costume might be considered racist, it probably is.”

Likewise with jokes, whether they are onsite or at an offsite party: “Employees also need to be aware of pranks that could be perceived as bullying, for instance a recent case where an airport worker was dismissed after she put an image of a witch as a screensaver on the computer of a colleague who had unfriended her on Facebook,” Singh warns.

Perhaps most importantly, HR and employers should respect employees who see the day as a sacred holiday. Singh adds: “Employers should treat all religions, mainstream or not, as equal as the Equality Act doesn’t state the belief has to be a major religion to be protected. A recent example was in 2013 where an employee who was a Pagan witch won damages for unfair dismissal after she was sacked after switching her shift to celebrate Halloween.

“Employers should also respect the right of employees to treat Halloween as a day for sombre reflection or not to participate at all, for Jehovah’s Witnesses and some Evangelical Christians it can be a festival taking part in false worship.”

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