Halloween is supposed to be all in good fun, but it is not always fun for everyone. Although the idea for an employer-sponsored Halloween party may be born out of a desire to create a workplace community or to encourage teambuilding among colleagues, the sentiment has the potential to backfire. Unfortunately, some workers may have religious or moral objections to celebrating the holiday; others may become offended by a co-worker’s ill-conceived costume; and still others may be made to feel uncomfortable with a work associate’s inappropriate sexualized attention, which could constitute sexual harassment.
When planning and executing a Halloween party, employers should be careful to remain sensitive to their employees’ needs surrounding the event. It should be made clear that any employee’s involvement in the party is purely voluntary, and that there will be no negative repercussions for opting out.
The employer must remind all attendees to respect company expectations regarding employees’ personal behavior when interacting at the event to ensure that the after-hours exchanges remain appropriately trouble-free.
If the employer fails to convey these expectations, they may run the risk of creating a situation that can easily spill turn into a hostile work environment and cause liability issues for the employer.
What Types of Behavior are Problematic at a Company Halloween Party?
Harassment of a sexual nature can come from an offender of either sex, but it is more often directed at women. An unfortunate combination of a seemingly more laidback environment, the possibility of revealing or suggestive costumes, and the consumption of alcohol may be taken as an invitation by one employee to approach another in a way that becomes quite problematic.
One employee making unwelcome advances on another can cause issues for the company that arguably set the scene for the inappropriate behavior.
A Halloween party can set off a problematic situation if an employee is the object of verbal or physical interactions that make them feel uncomfortable such as being ogled, being the subject of inappropriate jokes, or being grabbed or touched in a suggestive or sexually aggressive way.
Someone who takes such liberties may assume their target’s sexy costume invites that attention. They may find an excuse in the casual setting or their own alcohol consumption. However, the unwanted behavior directed at an unwilling and uncomfortable target creates a hostile environment that threatens to implicate the employer who sanctioned the event that brought them together.
This is especially true if the behavior continues or, even more so, if the offender has a history of similar behavior going into the party.
What can an Employer Do to Prevent Sexual Harassment at Company-Sponsored Halloween Parties?
Many companies have decided to forgo company-sponsored Halloween activities in an effort to avoid liability. Others have been diligent about setting the ground rules for such an event. Some steps an employer can take to head off inappropriate exchanges between employees include the following:
- Announcing that all costumes must be culturally sensitive and appropriately modest in accordance with the company’s dress code and anti-discrimination policies
- Informing employees that attendance at the party is not a job requirement and that no adverse effects will come to them if they do not participate
- Reminding all attendees of the company’s stance on forbidding any form of discrimination or harassment, particularly those based on sex
- Ensuring that no retaliation takes place against any employee who opts out of the party or who files a complaint related to activity of which they were subjected at the event
- Instituting measures to limit the amount of alcohol served at the party to anyone behaving in a way that has the potential to cause problems
South Jersey Sexual Harassment Lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC, Represent Workers Subjected to Inappropriate Behavior or Harassment
If you were sexually harassed at a work event or on the job, you may have a case against your company for their part in allowing the damaging behavior. The South Jersey sexual harassment lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC, can advise you on what can be done to hold your employer accountable for an environment of harassment and inappropriate behavior. To learn more about how we can help, call us today at 856-235-7075 or contact us online for a free consultation. With office locations in Mount Laurel and Atlantic City, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients from Cherry Hill, Burlington County, Camden County, and throughout South Jersey.