Scary Legal Issues that Halloween brings for employers

Halloween is a celebration observed by a number of countries worldwide on the 31st October and with it comes allegations of workplace misconduct.

Inappropriate behaviour can arise at any time of the year; however, Halloween appears to bring a special type of poor behaviour.

Discrimination against Pagan Witches

It is important that employers do not take uncommon religious beliefs less seriously than more obvious beliefs.

This was seen in the case of Holland v Angel Supermarket Ltd and Another. In this case a Wiccan employee claimed she was unfairly dismissed after her employers found out she was a Pagan practicing witch. It was reported that her employers asked if “modern day witches still flew on broomsticks.”

The Equality Act 2010 protects individuals of “any religion” and does not specify that the belief has to be of a major religion in order to be protected.

Fancy dress discrimination

In the case of X v Y, the Employment Tribunal established that a gay employee was harassed after attending a work fancy dress party where the employee observed banter of an offensive sexual nature.

Often employers use fancy dress during holiday periods to motivate their staff. However, it is important that businesses are aware that fancy dress in the workplace has the capacity to offend others. E.G. Religious and nationality costumes could result in a discrimination claim.

Further, in the case of Brown v Young and Co.’s Brewery, the Employment Tribunal submitted that a manager harassed a black employee by telling him he “looked like a pimp” as he was wearing a St Patricks Day hat.

Halloween related misconduct

In Biggin Hill Airport v Derwich, an employee had her contract of employment terminated after placing an image of a witch on the screensaver of a colleague who she was in dispute with.

Misconduct through social media

What employees post on social media can have a detrimental effect on your organisation. Liam Williams, an international Welsh rugby player found himself having to publicly apologise after he posted a picture of him painted black online posing as the footballer Wilfried Bony.

It is recommended that employers have a social media policy providing employees with clear provisions on what will be deemed acceptable and unacceptable conduct online.

Health and Safety issues

Should you permit your employees to come in to work in fancy dress. It is important you are aware of the health and safety implications that come with this. E.G. Allowing workers to wear costumes whilst operating machinery can be disastrous.

The law provides that employers will be held liable for the safety of their employees. In Travis v Robbins-Sykes Hardwood Flooring, an employer learnt the hard way after the courts held him responsible for one of his workers injury compensation claims. In this event, the employee fell off a stool after being scared by a colleague who was wearing a mask.

Employer considerations

-Ensure there is clear guidelines and policies on appropriate workplace conduct;

-Confirm with managers their understanding on discrimination and harassment in the workplace;

-Ensure all policies are applied fairly and at all times.

Employment Law Support for Employers

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