When people think of Halloween, most think about costumes, trick-or-treating, pumpkins, and other fun traditions. Many employers celebrate the holiday with an office Halloween party. Whether they are a potluck lunch event or a full-scale catered endeavor held in the banquet room of a hotel, such parties can be a lot of fun. However, Halloween parties also invite the risk of discrimination and harassment.
Take, for example, Halloween costumes. How many times have we heard a story in the news about someone’s poor decision to wear a racially insensitive costume to a Halloween party? Just this year we have heard about some individuals deciding it would be a good idea to dress up as Trevon Martin and George Zimmerman for Halloween. Employees don’t even need to get that creative to offend, as we have heard that one can buy a “Sushi Chef“ costume at Pottery Barn, and a “Turban & Beard Instant Costume“ at retailers like Wal-Mart. Such costumes may result in claims of racial discrimination or national origin discrimination.
Aside from being offensive, other problems can arise at a Halloween party. Some employees may respond to others’ costumes in inappropriate ways, such as grabbing at an employee’s costume to see where the costume ends and the person’s body begins, attempting to remove portions of another employee’s costume in order to see who they are, or grabbing at someone in costume because they think the sexy costumed is inviting such conduct, and they turn out to be wrong. Also, employees may make inappropriate jokes or about other employees’ costumes. These types of incidents can lead to claims of sexual harassment.
Finally, it is important to remember that some people do not celebrate Halloween, and others have sincerely held beliefs against it. As a result, employers risk a claim for religious discrimination when they force employees to celebrate Halloween. That means that an employer cannot force an employee to decorate, dress for, or otherwise participate in Halloween festivities, no matter how secular such activities may seem. At the same time, employers should not retaliate or make fun of employees for refusing to participate as the decision may be based on sincere religious beliefs.
If you have been fired, discriminated against, denied wages, or even think that you might need an employment lawyer, call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at (216) 291-4744. The Spitz Law Firm and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.
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