As we approach the celebration of Halloween, how should employers encourage or discourage the celebration at work?

There remains a dialogue in society that Americans have become too politically correct and are triggered by minor things and that these triggers are taking all the fun out of the workplace. This will be the complaint when talking about celebrating Halloween at work. My recommendation — celebrate fall but not Halloween.

Today’s workforce is becoming increasingly diverse, and this has led to the success of many organizations. As the workplace changes, so must some of the previous practices that in today’s environment should not occur.

The first is wearing costumes to work. Most costumes present an extreme version of a career or culture. Whether it be a maid, cowboy, nun, devil, vampire or zombie, costumes can misappropriate another culture or present offensive, insensitive, sexual or violent images.

While there might be a few costumes that are innocuous, can you count on all your employees to select those few images that no reasonable person can find inappropriate?

Costumes should be banned other than at places like day cares or children’s hospitals where workers should be counseled on appropriate costumes for kids, understanding that issues of misappropriation and other concerns could still arise.

Halloween decorations also present concerns for some workers. A Chesapeake resident told police this month that her neighbor’s decorations were racially offensive. They consisted of a replica of a body being hung by a tree with a noose. The neighbor responded there was no racial intent in the display.

While there was much debate on social media as to whether the images were racially charged, the workplace is not a place for these or other offensive images to be displayed.

Finally, celebrating Halloween in general can negatively affect those whose religious beliefs strongly oppose the holiday.

Employers can compromise by having a fall celebration. Decorate the office in fall colors with pumpkins and straw. Host a potluck of fall favorites. Or organize a fall festival of team-building activities like pumpkin carving and sack races. Of course, for any celebration like this, participation should be voluntary.

In the end, the day will come and go, everyone will enjoy the fall celebration and the workplace will remain a great place to work.

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Karen Michael is an attorney with Richmond-based KarenMichael PLC. She can be reached at kmichael@karenmichaelconsulting.com.

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