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Halloween Isn’t A Free Pass To Discriminate And Harass

by | Oct 31, 2022 | Employment Discrimination, Employment Law |

There will be tons of Halloween office parties going on today. During a good portion of those parties, employee’s rights will be violated because for some unknown reason, a boss, manager, supervisor or coworker will think that normal work rules do not apply on Halloween. But rest in peace, knowing that you are still protected from ghoulish harassment and discrimination even at the company’s costume party. Let’s look at it a little closer at some of the employment issues you may close in encounter at your job’s Halloween party.

Can my boss force me to wear a Halloween costume to work on Halloween?

Certain laws can prevent your employer from requiring participation in a costume party at your workplace. For example, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, if participating in holiday parties or wearing a costume is against your sincerely held religious beliefs, your employer must legally accommodate you by not requiring your participation. (Best Law Read: Can I Get A Religious Dress Accommodation At Work?; Religious Discrimination: What Does Reasonable Accommodation Mean?).

Likewise, employees can request an accommodation to be excused from wearing a costume base on a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). In addition to physical limitation to wearing a costume, an employee can request a disability accommodation based on mental and emotional disabilities, including, for example, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. (Best Law Read: ADA Disability Accommodation Law: Help Me, Help You; What Is The Interactive Process For Disabled Employees?; What Should Employees Know About Reasonable Accommodations?).

Importantly, remember that if you want a religious or disability accommodation, you have to ask for it.

However, if you are an at-will employee and these laws don’t apply to you, your supervisor or boss can make wearing a costume a condition of employment. Remember, as an at-will employee, you can be fired for any reason that is not illegal, no reason, or even a bad reason, like refusing to do a group three little pigs and the big bad wolf group costume. (Best Law Read: What Does Employment At-Will Mean?; Can I Really Be Fired For No Reason As An At-Will Employee? I Need A Lawyer!).

What should I do if my manager sexually harasses me at the office Halloween costume party?

For some reason, there are many a boss, supervisor, manager, and even business owner our there that think that sexual harassment laws do not apply during company holiday parties. But they do. (Best Law Read: My Boss Sexually Harassed Me At Our Christmas Party! Can I Sue? I Need A Lawyer!). This means that even an undead boss or a Joker supervisor cannot play grab ass or offer a promotion in exchange quickie sex in a conference room or back at his place. Employers cannot legally defend a sexual harassment charge by arguing that a subordinate looked really sexy in her cat outfit or dressed as a baseball player. (Best Law Read: What Is Sexual Harassment In The Workplace?; What’s The Difference Between Quid Pro Quo And Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment?).

If you find yourself being sexually harassed by a coworker or customer dressed as a frog with devil horns (i.e., a horny toad), it is critical that you immediately report such conduct to a boss, manager, or human resources and give your employer a chance to stop the conduct. In addition to being required to report such sexual harassment in order to file a claim under Title VII, reporting sex harassment to your employer protects you from retaliation – which means that even if you report such unlawful conduct verbally, you should document it by sending a follow up email or text message. (Best Law Read: Will My Employer Be Liable For Coworker Sexual Harassment?; Why Reporting Sexual Harassment Is Critical; Does My Job Have To Stop Harassment By Customers?).

Can offensive costumes create a hostile work environment at an office party?

Federal and most state laws, including Title VII, ADEA and ADA, protect employees from working in a work environment that is hostile based on race/color, religion, gender, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, and disability. In order to be considered an unlawfully hostile workplace, an employee must point to severe or pervasive conduct committed or tolerated by management level employees. Thus, unless a costume is sufficiently severe, a boss or manager wearing an offensive costume to the office party will not likely be found – on its own – to be frequent enough to satisfy the pervasive requirements to create a hostile work environment. That being said, make sure to get a picture of the offensive costume and discuss with an employee’s rights attorney other offensive conduct that your employer has engaged in. Certainly, a picture of boss’s offensive costume will increase your chances of getting your case to a jury and thus, increase the settlement value of your case. (Best Law Read: What Is A Legally Hostile Work Environment?; How Do I Prove My Hostile Work Environment Claim?; What Qualifies A Hostile Work Environment Under Title VII?).

What are the most offensive Halloween costumes to wear to work?

Our team of employment discrimination attorneys put together a list of costumes that many be sufficiently severe or contribute to a pervasive conduct. If your boss or manager showed up in any of these costumes, give your hostile work environment lawyers a call:

  • Hitler and Concentration Campers.i Hitler with a whistle and clipboard while other dressing up as Jewish concentration camp prisoners carrying a lunch box and soccer ball is not a funny word pun. This will offend more than just the Jewish employees.
  • Ku Klux Klan Member. No, you cannot get away with this by saying that I’m just a ghost.
  • Black Face. Obviously, this is really bad and only made worse when the White boss tries to pull off Kunta Kinte or Aunt Jemima. If PepsiCo retired the brand because it was offensive, you should be clued in that it is a bad costume idea.
  • Sexual Word Play On The 1980s Song By Dexys Midnight Runners, Come On Eileen. I suspect that the sexual harassment implications are pretty clear.
  • Disability Based Costumes. Bad disability costumes include a skeleton costume with an “Anna Rexia” name tag or a Three Blind Mice group costume after an employee asks for an accommodation for a vision impairment. HR and managers dressing in costumes that make fun of an employee’s disability are a bad idea.
  • D*ck In The Box Guys from SNL. Just because Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg did it on SNL does not mean that it is not sexually harassing to do at work to ask all the women at the office to guess what is in your box.
  • White Guy Dressed As An Arab Snake Charmer With The Snake Coming Out Of His Pants. This a double dip to both sexually harass all the women and offend anyone of middle eastern decent.
  • Chief Wahoo. The Cleveland baseball team retired both the team’s name and mascot. Before that there were always a couple of idiots that thought “red face” was appropriate. Do not protest the name change by dressing up as the retired Chief. And, yes, dressing as Pocahontas is bad too if you are not Native American.
  • Costumes That Come With Bad Fake Accents. Your Caucasian manager should not be dressing in a Saltillo Costume with a long fake mustache and using a bad fake Speedy Gonzalez Hispanic accent.
  • LGBTQ+ parodies. If you are not gay or identify as a different gender than assigned at birth, please don’t dress up in what you think gay people would wear and act like a bad character of LGBTQ+ people.
  • Any Costume That Requires Near Nudity. Michael Phelps in a speedo with a bunch of gold medals is bad idea no matter if this is your only opportunity to show the office your six pack. Don’t do the sitting on the toilet naked thing either.
  • Confederate Soldier. If your manager wears this, he might as well carry a sign that says, “I’m racist.”
  • Pregnant Or Sexy Nun. Stay clear of religion and sex.
  • Female and Male Body Organs and Products. Dressing as a penis with a name tag that says, “Hello, My Name Is Richard” falls into the bad sexual pun category and overtly sexual violation. Equally bad is dressing as boobs, vagina, and feminine health care products.
  • Eggplant Emoji. This is no better.

Unfortunately, many people believe that Halloween office parties allow them to proclaim their intrinsic racist, antisemitic, homophobic, ablest, or other discriminatory opinions without recourse. Halloween does not give your boss, supervisor or coworkers the right to discriminate or harass you. If your employer engages in or will not stop discriminatory or harassing conduct at your workplace Halloween party, call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?; Why Having Skilled Employment Attorneys Is Critical; Employment Law: Avoid Hiring The Wrong Attorney). Call our lawyers in Ohio, Michigan, and Raleigh to get help now. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm and its experienced attorneys are dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.

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