Trick or Treat? Office Halloween Parties Can Frighten Supervisors and HR Professionals

by | Oct 26, 2011 | Blog, HR Policies, Office Party

  • Amy Letke

    Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success. Contact us for more insights - 502-753-0970 or

What are you going to be for Halloween? Are you going to wear it to any Halloween office parties?

(Check out this article on that features Amy Letke’s expert advice on Halloween costumes at work!)

This year’s top Halloween costume trends are lacking creativity. The number one costume choice is a witch. Really? That’s original. Rounding out the top five are a pirate, vampire, zombie and batman. If this is what’s going to show up at our doorsteps on Halloween, we’re going to be highly disappointed.

We want to see a Lady Gaga complete with a meat dress, a grown woman as a Toddler & Tiara with a spray tan, Charlie Sheen (and his goddesses), an angry bird (complete with friends dressed up as pigs to knock down), or even a Twitter hashtag (so everyone next to them can be a trending topic). Not sure how we feel about it, but we’re sure there will be some Amy Whinehouse and Steve Jobs zombies roaming the neighborhoods (too soon?).

Halloween is a great time of year for a couple reasons. A. You can be whoever you want. Ever dreamed of being an astronaut? Or even President of the United States? Do it. Walk in their shoes for the night. B. What other day of the year is it socially acceptable to knock on strangers’ doors and ask for candy? On the other 364 days of the year we teach our kids NOT to take things from strangers, but on this one day, we encourage them to break the rules.

Now to most people, Halloween is all fun and games. But there are some people who are greatly offended by this devilish day. As human resources professionals, we think it is important to recognize that Halloween isn’t for everyone.


Disclaimer: We understand that every company has a different “culture.” If you’re all business in your suits, maybe a bowl of candy at the reception desk is all you do to celebrate Halloween. If you’re atmosphere is a little more laid back, you may want to listen up. As always, Integrity HR is just looking out for your best interests.

Now we continue:

We might upset a few Halloween enthusiasts with this one, but at Integrity HR, we suggest hosting a “Fall celebration” instead of a “Halloween party.” We know, we know. We just rambled on about how great Halloween is and now we’re telling you NOT to celebrate. That’s not exactly what we’re saying.

At Integrity HR, we suggest keeping the batman suits, witch hats and Angry Bird sling slots at home, but still enjoying a celebration at the office. (Read our previous blogs about Holiday parties here.)

By eliminating the Halloween theme, you avoid excluding staff who do not celebrate Halloween or are offended by implications of All Hallows’ Eve.

But if you’re going to ignore our advice and go ahead with your scheduled Halloween party (it’s too late to cancel, right?), then here are some tips to keep your party in order.

Outline The Events

We know nobody likes a party planner with a strict schedule yelling at everyone that it is no longer time for arts and crafts, but when it comes to office parties you need to set a limit to the fun. Are you going to have this party just over lunch and then have everyone get back to work? Are you going to start the party toward the end of the day so employees can leave after? Make sure your party has a starting and ending time if you actually plan on being productive that day.

Communicate costume guidelines clearly in advance.

What is the function of your business? Are people going to be sitting at their desks or working heavy machinery in their batman cape? If it’s the latter one, you may want to put tighter restrictions on the apparel for the event. Are your employees going to be interacting with customers or clients while dressed like Minnie Mouse? Make it clear that the office dress code rules still apply to costumes. If you don’t allow belly shirts or tank tops in your dress code policy in your Employee Handbook, don’t allow anyone to dress up like Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” video circa 1998. Also, remind employees to be conscious of others when choosing their costumes. Dressing as a vending machine—wearing all black with snacks fastened to one’s body that the wearer throws to the floor when someone makes a selection—is timeless office humor. However, a suggestion four years ago to wear a “pink slip” over clothing and chase co-workers around might not be funny given the current unemployment rate. Also, costumes depicting other cultures or religions—dressing as a Native American or as a priest or nun, for example—could be considered disrespectful and cause offense. If your employees are in doubt about the appropriateness of their costumes, tell them to ask you beforehand so you can avoid awkward confrontations at the celebration.

Have something for everyone

Maybe everyone doesn’t like to dress up in silly costumes. Make sure to have fun events that appeal to the masses such as a potluck lunch, pumpkin carving or a pie baking contest. (This is a great way to make the party more of Fall theme instead of a Halloween theme). You could even make it a family event with trick or treating around the office for employees’ children and grandchildren. If you want to get input from everyone in the office before deciding on what festivities to include, you can send an e-mail or flyer to employees with a small bag of candy several weeks before the event and solicit ideas for the celebration. Once the details have been worked out, gently remind people, again through e-mails and flyers, about the boundaries for the voluntary celebration.

Make Attendance Optional

Do not force every one to attend. As we stated before, not everyone is comfortable with Halloween and they should not be forced to participate. Some employees may object to Halloween parties simply because they see such events as frivolous and inappropriate for the workplace. One way to avoid complaints about frivolity is to tie the fun to something important in the company’s culture. For example, your company could hold Halloween-themed competitions among departments to raise money for your favorite charity. The competitions reinforce teamwork and help employees feel that they are giving something to others.

Most importantly, remind everyone they are still at work and they have to act professionally.

This means no spiked punch. Sorry to be a party pooper, but alcohol is not appropriate for a work event especially if it is held during office hours. Employers also need to be aware that Halloween celebrations may raise legal considerations. For example, allowing decorations that some employees find offensive could be construed as contributing to a hostile work environment.

Other legal issues include:

  • Workplace violence concerns. Suppose an employee comes to work wearing a mask, carrying a toy gun or other toy weapon and makes a joke in poor taste about hurting people? In an era when workplace violence can be very real and deadly, some workers may not appreciate the joke. Such an incident could leave the employer open to legal action. HR or supervisors should make clear that certain types of costumes or props such as fake weapons are not appropriate. (Read about workplace violence in our previous blog)
  • “Cyber harassment” in the guise of holiday pranks. Workers who send obscene or threatening e-mails as Halloween jokes might expose employers to legal problems. Existing policies on e-mail use should already cover this situation.
  • Policies on time away from the workplace. HR professionals need to review their existing rules governing short absences from work. If you plan to let employees bring children to participate in celebrations, employees will want to know whether they must take vacation time to pick up and bring their children or whether the time will be covered in other ways.
  • Religious accommodation. Some employees, such as followers of the Celtic-based religion Wicca, might consider Halloween itself a religious holiday. Employers could get into trouble if those employees request the day off as a religious holiday and the employers do not accommodate them.

While you may be thinking about ixnaying your party all together, we do think office celebrations have a purpose. Celebrations that include the entire staff and supervisors helps to build camaraderie, build teamwork, alleviate workplace stress, and provide an outlet for creativity and a break from the routine.

Legal questions, employee objections, and religious issues don’t mean you should hide the candy, ban the costumes and toss out the fake cobwebs. With planning and sensitivity, you can still throw Halloween parties. And hey, you could just have a Fall Celebration and avoid all that Halloween mess!

What are your plans for Halloween? Are you going to have an office party? If you dress up, what are you going to be?

Remember, Integrity HR is here to help your with all your human resources concerns. We can help you update your employee handbook so all your policies are in order before these situations come up. Contact us today.

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