How Employers’ Haunted House and Fright Night Went Way Wrong

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Workplace Halloween celebrations can be more than just
frightful if workers are injured during the festivities. Halloween-related
injuries at work happen more than you might think.

Take an employer that set up a haunted house on its
premises in a town that did not have one. The Midwest-based financial services
company thought that it was being altruistic, but because of the haunted
house’s poor design, a chainsaw-wielding accountant dressed up as Jason
Voorhees from the “Friday the 13th” horror movies chased an intern
into a wall and she broke her nose.

If a company is not in the business of running haunted
houses, it should think twice before setting one up, cautioned Philippe Weiss,
managing director of Seyfarth Shaw at Work in Chicago.

Even if no one is injured, Halloween events at work
are sometimes so over the top that they lead to bad public relations. A
restaurant that hosted a customer fright night is a case in point. Workers out
front dressed up like princes, princesses and Disney characters. But
occasionally, the lights would go out and workers with dangling eyeballs and
covered in fake blood would emerge and scream at customers, Weiss said. Many of
the customers had brought their kids and found the event incredibly disturbing.
It was a public relations debacle, Weiss said.

Weiss added that he would even rule out having lit
candles or carving pumpkins at work, just to stay on the safe side. Candles
have started many fires, and many people have been injured at work while trying
to carve pumpkins, he said.


Costumes can also pose safety risks at work, so
costume guidelines may be in order.

In manufacturing settings, there’s a risk of injuries
from long flowing costumes, said John McLafferty, an attorney with Day Pitney
in Boston.

Long cloaks or smocks, which are common on wizard or
witch costumes, can get caught in machinery, noted Robin Shea, an attorney with
Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Sometimes it’s the props that accompany costumes that
pose a risk. McLafferty noted that an off-duty police officer at one Halloween
party accidentally set off a hand grenade that was part of his costume.

An employee who dresses up as a Samurai warrior
carrying a real Japanese sword could create a problem for the employer, as the
employee or co-workers might be injured. Tell employees not to use genuine
weapons as part of their costumes, Shea said.

Injuries sustained at work as a result of Halloween costumes
may be compensable under workers’ compensation statutes. An Arkansas employer
had to pay workers’ compensation benefits to an injured employee who fell off a
stool after being scared by a co-worker wearing a Halloween mask, McLafferty

He recommended that employers provide employees with
costume guidelines. Don’t just tell workers to use good judgment, because
that’s far too subjective a standard. Instead, be as specific as possible. Make
it clear that employees can’t show too much skin or violate workplace dress
codes. Any politically themed outfits or those that mock a certain nationality
or culture should be left at home, as they may create hard feelings that last
well beyond a Halloween party.

Shea said employers might want to consider not
allowing costumes at work for Halloween. Employees can express themselves by
wearing Halloween jewelry or putting a plastic pumpkin with candy on their
desks, she said. “If dress-up is really essential for employee morale,
then I would recommend that HR issue written guidelines that are as specific as
possible,” she stated.

who violate the guidelines should be sent home to change, Shea said.

At Converge HR Solutions, we offer an HR Outsourcing
service that will cover all of your HR Needs. From Handbook & Policies to
Regulatory Compliance, we will ensure that your policies and documents are up
to date, as well as correspond with the safety guidelines of your company to
avoid injury during company holiday parties, if you so choose to host
one.  For more information regarding our HR Outsourcing service, or any of
our other services, visit our website at or email us
directly at or give
us a call at 610-296-8550.


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