Across the country, recruiters spent the late summer hiring zombies, vampires, witches, and other denizens of the dark to populate the frightful attractions (even an oceanliner) that will be gone by Sunday night.
These thousands of seasonal hires may give kids nightmares, but they’re about the only workers this week who aren’t causing costume angst for the human resources department. Even as most workers are looking forward to Friday’s Halloween party, HR is spooked by the thought someone might show up this year as an Ebola victim or a superhero dressed in what looks suspiciously like underwear.
Observes Michael V. Abcarian, a managing partner in the employment law firm Fisher & Phillips, “In the past few years, we have seen an uptick in issues and questions from clients about Halloween costuming.”
Employers can head off problems by reminding workers to use discretion and good taste in their costume. However, that only goes so far, since what one person thinks is in good taste may be abhorrent to others. For example, a hospital employee coming to work in a hazmat suit (there’s even a sexy version available online) could cause a panic among those who don’t know it’s only a costume.
For sheer bad taste, there’s always the possibility some witless worker will show up as a terrorism victim, as a Michigan woman did last year, posting pictures of herself on social media costumed as a Boston Marathon bombing victim.
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Reason enough, say employment lawyers and HR pros, to send everyone a Do and Don’t Halloween memo. Use examples to make clear what’s not acceptable and what is. The Society for Human Resource Management has a slideshow of appropriate and inappropriate costumes.
As if costumes weren’t enough to keep HR up at night, there’s the possibility some workers may object on religious grounds to the whole idea of Halloween. Give them the option of taking the day off with pay, say the lawyers. When a worker complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about an office Halloween celebration, the case was dismissed because the employee was offered the day off with pay.