Maybe I was destined to be in HR. I say that because I am not a big fan of Halloween and I never have been, not even as a kid. Yeah, getting all dressed up in costumes and going out to beg for candy from neighbors and strangers–what could possibly go wrong?

I am betting I’m not the only one who hates Halloween, HR secretly hates it too. They probably won’t admit it, but it’s true. Any HR person reading this article is quieting giggling inside because they know the Halloween office party is loaded with potential liabilities and embarrassments. We just hope to make it through the party without an incident. Don’t get me wrong–HR professionals love candy (they keep some on their desks), drinks, and good laughs. And yet, they know that the holiday office party is just an employee write-up waiting to happen.

Halloween is the official opener of the holiday party season. Up until then, it’s overcooked hamburgers and the monthly employee birthday cake. Halloween is different and here’s why: it’s the only party where you are encouraged to be something or someone else and being a little naughty is okay–until it’s not.

Hey, raise your hand if you’ve ever had to send an employee home from a Halloween party for being too drunk, too offensive, or just too inappropriate? Extra points if you’ve had to send the manager, director or CEO home…go and sleep it off, pal.

Even though I hate Halloween, there are many others who love it. I’m not talking about kids either, because they are supposed to get excited and anticipate all the fun, laughter, and treats of Halloween. I’m talking about adults. Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that we will spend over $6.9 billion dollars  (that’s with a “b”!) on Halloween costumes, candy, parties, and even pet costumes this year.

The big difference between adults and kids at Halloween is that adults ALWAYS–ALWAYS try to push the boundaries of what’s appropriate and tasteful. It’s been happening for years and it will probably keep happening as well; there will always be THAT guy or girl at the party who just has to shock everyone.

Halloween gives grown folks an excuse to be childish. Take the guy who’s decorated his home to resemble a bio-hazardous contamination scene. Really! With the world on high alert regarding Ebola, he thinks this is light-hearted and funny. Way too soon, dude!

Can you imagine someone wearing an Ebola hazmat suit, which by the way is the Number 1 selling Halloween costume this year?  Or how about the guy who staged a fake crime scene in his driveway, complete with a fake kid trapped under the wheel of a SUV? Of course, he doesn’t think it’s too gruesome. YEAH! Fun times, can’t wait to discuss why your Washington Redskins body paint and Indian garb is offensive!

See, us HR folks can’t have fun at the Halloween party because as Guardians of the Business Galaxy we have to make sure the company doesn’t get sued. And although we send out an email outlining acceptable behavior and costumes, there is always that one person who wants to dress like a “pregnant nun.”

Do you know the number one fear HR has about your holiday party? In this age of social media, our biggest fear is that your lewd behavior will get recorded by one of the many smartphones in the room, uploaded to YouTube or Vine, and go viral!

Enough of the impending write-ups, lawsuits, and sexual harassment claims as a result of the Halloween shenanigans; let’s look at some positives, and check out some of the things you can do to make it more a “treat” than a dirty old “trick.”

  1. Start the party early and set a time limit. Yes, do not treat this like a New Year’s Eve party. If you are going to have a Halloween office party, then do it early like 5 to 7 or 8 p.m., and that’s it. Also, establish a two-adult-drink maximum.
  2. Insist on costumes that are not offensive, shocking, culturally insensitive, racially insensitive, or sexually insensitive. In fact, have them try to not offend any of the senses at all.
  3. Try a children’s character theme party, e.g. the Minions from Despicable Me, Ewoks from Star Wars, Dr. Zeus, superheroes, and Disney characters. Okay, I give you permission to dress as MALEFICENT, but that’s it!

Seriously, folks, I know it’s typical of HR to kill the mood and spoil the fun, but if employees could be trusted to have good clean fun without crossing the line, HR could relax a bit and enjoy the party too. However, that’s just not how it works. Ask any HR professional, even if they support the Halloween party and help organize it, their worst nightmare is that an employee will do something stupid in the name of fun which causes them to have to fire that employee on November 1st.

Chris Fields

Chris Fields is an HR professional and expert resume writer with more than 13 years of experience as a former practitioner and current HR consultant. He is the curator of two websites: CostofWork.com and ResumeCrusade.com , and contributes HR-focused content to many others, including PerformanceICreate.com and SmartRecruiters.com . He has been listed by the Huffington Post as one of the “Top 100 Most Social Human Resources Experts to Follow on Twitter”, one of the “Top 40 under 40” by the HR Blogger Network, one of the “25 Must-Read HR Blogs in 2013”, and also featured on Oprah.com. He is very active with the Society of Human Resource Management, working closely with conference directors, communication chairs, and social media teams from Illinois, Oklahoma, and Tennessee to develop social strategies to engage attendees and enhance their conference experience. Chris earned his master’s degree in Labor and Human Resources from Ohio State University. In 2005, he moved back to his hometown of Memphis, TN, where he has developed a reputation for helping his clients create HR strategies, and individuals master the tough economic challenges of the South.

5 Comments

  • Avatar Kinzy Oliver says:

    A Halloween party is an opportunity for my company to boost creativity and reduce stress among employees, but I always consider this: not everyone likes to participate by dressing up in a costume. I prefer to keep it optional because I don’t want to make those who don’t want to wear a costume feel uncomfortable or pressured. Also, for those who are interested in dressing up, I always provide costume guidelines to avoid any inappropriate appearances.

  • Avatar Daniel Branson says:

    I really enjoyed reading your article. Employers and employees should know how to dress appropriately for an office Halloween party. If an employee has doubts about a costume’s appropriateness, he or she should leave it at home in case the human resources department will hate it. That sexy kitty outfit is great for a party with your best friends, but it should be left at home for the office party.

  • Avatar Mark J. Owen says:

    A Halloween party may seem harmless, but it can cause many problems. We have to be aware that we live in a very diverse culture, and some of our actions can offend our co-workers. Employees should avoid dressing up in a costume that may be offensive to a co-worker.

  • Avatar Chris aka new_resource says:

    I must admit, when a Halloween party goes off well, meaning no one is harmed, harassed or embarrassed, it can be fun.
    I really like children character theme parties – can’t go wrong with Disney, right?

  • Avatar george ponzoni says:

    I like Halloween, and dressing up, I’m sorry to hear your past experience with Halloween was not good or rewarding in a way to leave you with a good memory.
    Getting free candy was/is awesome.
    However some people don’t know how to have fun responsibly as you say, or have fun at all..
    If people are so worried then don’t bother. Just let people dress up mildly if they want and eat candy and have a nice relaxing day. Make sure costume guidelines are known in advance! Most good parties aren’t at work anyway. But if they were maybe people would like their job more?

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