Halloween is a holiday that staff members around the office often love to celebrate. Even though they may not have the day off, employees appreciate the chance to show their holiday spirit by donning a funny, clever or intricate costume.
While displays of holiday spirit are great for office morale and can help keep workers engaged, it's easy for Halloween spirit to spiral into an HR nightmare if management isn't careful. Senses of humor can vary widely from person to person, and the last thing any company wants is an inadvertent harassment complaint due to a carelessly conceived holiday getup.
What to look out for
The holiday that offers staff members some of the greatest flexibility to be silly or spirited also has the greatest potential to go too far too quickly, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Some costumes are obviously unsuitable for work, whether they're too revealing, too graphic, or just racially or religiously insensitive. Other outfits may be less overtly offensive, but should still be avoided. For example, employees who want to score some laughs with a topical "Ebola-themed" costume may not think they're doing anything wrong, but in an HR environment, it's almost always better to be safe than sorry. SHRM outlined other news-inspired costumes that should be avoided, such as ISIS insurgents.
However, not all potential red-flag costumes are as obvious as an Ebola hazmat suit. The source noted that even some of the Halloween classics - ghosts, skeletons, mummies and zombies - that would be welcome additions to some offices wouldn't fly in other settings, specifically hospitals or other health care facilities.
How to set a policy
Trying to police every employee's Halloween costume on a case-by-case basis is an administrative nightmare. Thus it's highly recommended that you sit down with your HR services team and establish a costume policy that clearly outlines what is and isn't acceptable so that employees know ahead of time how to guide their costuming decisions.
As with other aspects of company dress code, the costume policy is ultimately up to you. However, it's important to make sure that basic guidelines are established - for example, costumes that are insensitive to religion, ethnicity, race or gender should be disallowed full-stop. Similarly, costumes that are little more than excuses to break the company dress code should be nixed. You don't want employees showing up dressed as cheerleaders, pharaohs or burlesque dancers.