Employers and Halloween celebrations – what you need to think about
We look at what employers should consider when organising a workplace Halloween event.
What is Halloween?
Halloween is a celebration of All Hallow’s Eve, which originates from Paganism, a broad term which includes a variety of traditions under its umbrella such as Druidry, Wicca, Goddess spirituality, shamanism and animism. Paganism is not widespread in the UK (there are only 74,000 Pagans in England and Wales according to the 2021 Census) but that doesn’t mean it should not be taken seriously - it is given the same level of protection as other religions under The Equality Act 2010, which states that religion means ‘any religion’. Because of this, employers need to be careful when permitting or even encouraging Halloween celebrations.
What should employers be aware of with Halloween celebrations?
Employers may organise a fancy dress day on Halloween to introduce fun, help reduce stress and shape a positive company culture; however, this has to be done carefully and with some thought. When organising a fancy dress day on Halloween, employers should clarify what is allowed, dress code wise, so employees do not cause offence, intentionally or otherwise.
Care should also be taken whether an employee chooses or not to take part in Halloween celebrations. Participation should not be forced and no one should feel excluded. In the case of Holland v Angel Supermarket Ltd, a Wiccan employee claimed she was mocked and later dismissed after switching her shifts so she could celebrate All Hallows’ Eve. She won her claim for religion or belief discrimination.
It is also worth noting that what is viewed as ‘banter’ by one employee may be received as bullying or harassment by another. Any grievances alleging bullying, even during Halloween, should be taken seriously and fully investigated by an employer. Employees should be reminded that they should treat others with respect, even during a fancy dress day at work and after, if the celebrations continue after the normal working hours.
Are employers liable for staff behaviour?
It must be remembered that employers may be held vicariously liable for actions of their employee towards another employee, even outside of normal work hours, therefore employers must ensure they have up to date and robust anti-harassment and bullying policies in place.