4 Legal and Employee Issues to Consider for Holiday Functions

The upcoming Halloween holiday (and other emerging holidays) brings to light a few critical legal and employee concerns that every HR professional needs to be aware of for their organizations. What may appear to be innocent office decorations, attire, conversations, celebrations/events, and more, can create legal and employee relations issues in the workplace. Here are some key issues to be aware of surrounding upcoming workplace holidays and events your organization is considering.

Harassment

Harassment is a major concern that surfaces in the workplace around Halloween and other holidays when social gatherings occur. HR needs to make employees aware of what types of costumes, decorations, props, and other items are not appropriate to bring into the workplace. In addition, around Halloween, interoffice jokes and pranks can become more common. Be sure to communicate what behaviors or conversations are not appropriate for the workplace and institute basic rules surrounding decorations, costumes, and other activities to make sure that employees’ ideas don’t get out of hand and lead to harassment or be viewed as indicative of a hostile work environment.

It’s also important to note that cyber-harassment has recently become a major issue for employers who allow employees to use electronic work equipment such as email, cell phones, laptops, and others at work.  Inappropriate emails, texts, calls, or use of other electronic devices can be cause for concern, especially around Halloween and other holidays when inappropriate emails may circulate with greater frequency. If your organization does not have a policy regarding harassment and the use of electronic devices (i.e. computers, email, cell phones, etc.), be sure to create one and communicate it to your employees.

Workplace violence

Halloween is a unique holiday, and as a result may lend itself to concerns pertaining to workplace violence. Workplace violence, however, may also be a more pressing concern at other holiday social gatherings, depending on the nature of the event and if the organization allows for alcohol consumption. As with harassment, be sure to have a policy in place and communicate it to employees and also establish rules regarding appropriate and inappropriate behaviors, costumes, props, and decorations.

Religious accommodations

Many workplaces have small holiday festivities or celebrations, or some departments may choose to coordinate their own internal activity. Some employees, however, may consider Halloween (or another day) a religious holiday or be opposed to the workplace having such a celebration due to their religious preferences. HR should be highly sensitive to these religious preferences and should not mandate attendance at or participation in such a festivity or celebration. If an employee considers Halloween or another holiday as a religious observance, it’s recommended that organizations accommodate this with time off or an alternative paid holiday.

Employee objections

In the workplace, there will undoubtedly be some employees that object to certain office decorations or activities, leading to some employee relations issues. These objections shouldn’t suggest that organizations must ban all of these types of activities in their workplace. HR should be mindful, however, of conduct that makes any employee uncomfortable in their workspace and put into place a fair complaint resolution process to resolve these sorts of issues. Diversity training may also be a viable intervention to help employees recognize the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of their coworkers and become more mindful of their behaviors and how they affect other individuals in the workplace.

If Halloween parties/festivities, costumes, decorations, contests, trick-or-treating, and other activities may be on your organization’s agenda for the next week, keep in mind these potential workplace concerns. Communicate any rules or guidelines surrounding Halloween and other holiday activities very clearly in advance, make sure supervisors are aware and enforcing these rules, have appropriate workplace policies in place for harassment and workplace violence, be sensitive to your workforce’s diversity, be prepared to use discipline on the spot, and consider alternative approaches to celebrate and come together as an organization – such as non-Halloween related fall festivities (SHRM, 2009). Common events other local employers coordinate are fall festivals, clam bakes, hay rides, and potlucks.  These can reduce the likelihood that your organization encounters potential legal or employee issues.

Holiday and social functions are a necessary part of the workplace, allowing for enjoyment and socializing.  They are effective methods of recognizing and engaging employees and building important coworker relationships.  As a result, your workplace can and should continue to hold these functions. Just be mindful of the potential legal and employee issues that could impact your organization, and put into place policies to protect your organization.

Source:
SHRM (2009). Allowing Halloween Costumes at Work Can Be Tricky

Additional Resources:

  • HR Help Desk (Members Only) – For additional information and guidance related to holiday practices, contact hrhelp@ercnet.org.
  • Surveys – Benchmark your holiday practices among other local employers. Participate in ERC’s 2011 Paid Holiday Survey and Holiday Practices Survey. Results of these surveys will be published in November.
  • Host Your Event at ERC! – ERC is a great setting to host your holiday party or event. Contact Jasmin Denholm at ERC (jdenholm@ercnet.org or 440/947-1274) for more information on our event services.
  • Training – For training on workplace topics such as harassment, discrimination, workplace violence, and other legal and employee relations in the workplace, please contact ckutsko@ercnet.org.
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2 Responses to 4 Legal and Employee Issues to Consider for Holiday Functions

  1. NOWAY says:

    I PERSONALLY FEEL THAT THE ENTIRE ISSUE OF HALLOWEEN IN THE WORKPLACE SHOULD BE BANNED. IT CAN BE PRESENTED AS A HARVEST FESTIVAL OR FALL FEST. THIS WAY YOU DON’T OFFEND OTHERS. IN MY WORK PLACE MANAGERS ARE ALMOST MANDATING THAT YOU PURCHASE ITEMS AND PARTICIPATE IN THE EVENTS. EMAILS ARE SENT INSTRUCTING YOU TO BUY CANDY AND DECORATE YOUR OFFICE WITH HALLOWEEN DECORATIONS. I AM A CHRISTIAN AND FIND THE ENTIRE MATTER OFFENSIVE. HOWEVER, I WOULDNT MIND PARTICIPATING IF THE WHOLE CELEBRATION OF HALLOWEEN WAS NOT THE FOCUS. CAN YOU PLEASE ADVISE OF METHODS THAT MAY BE USED TO GET OUR HR DEPT. TO TAKE NOTICE.

  2. dan says:

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