A complete guide to wearing a Halloween costume in the office, according to HR experts


Spooky season is here.

With Halloween quickly coming on October 31, Americans everywhere — big and small — are gearing up to find the right costume for the scariest day of the year.

Whether it’s the trick-or-treaters getting ready to fill their bags with sweets and treats, or going to an adult Halloween party, it’s important to think twice about attire and etiquette on Halloween, especially in the office.

A survey by Halloween Costumes found that one in seven adults said they feel comfortable wearing a sexy costume to a Halloween work event. That seems oddly high being that celebrating Halloween at the office seems like a trap due to the thin line between appropriate and inappropriate.

Jonathan Segal, a partner with Duane Morris LLP in Philadelphia, echoed that sentiment to SHRM Online, saying employees need to use good judgment when it comes to picking out their costumes for workplaces that allow costumes.

“Ask yourself: ‘Am I likely to offend someone with this costume?’” Segal said. If there’s any doubt, choose another costume.”

In short: your costume could get you in trouble. Save ‘Sexy Mister Rogers’ for at-home and definitely avoid dressing as your favorite politician on All Hallow’s Eve because it could upset someone and mean bad news for your career.

HRDive posted an op-ed looking into the problems with Halloween costumes at work, specifically past legal cases that involved discrimination and sexism in the workplace.

Hannah Caplan, the op-ed’s author, said places of work should notify employees the week before Oct. 31 about anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.

“This can also be an opportunity to clarify whether and if so, when, costumes are permitted at the workplace at all,” Caplan said. “Additionally, all costumes (if allowed) should be required to adhere to any dress code applicable to employees. In conjunction, all supervisors should be reminded to take immediate action if they see or learn of a costume or conduct that may run afoul of the law or company policies.”

The guidelines for a successful Halloween-office costume

So how exactly should employees dress this Halloween?

Labor and employment attorney David Barron penned an article for Ladders last year laying out the dos-and-don’t of Halloween dress code at the office that stands true today.

Barron said there’s no place for “sexy outfits, political statements or costumes that might be offensive based on a protected class such as race or gender.

Barron suggested dress codes don’t necessarily have to be demoralizing or preachy, but there should be a set dress code so employees know what they can and cannot wear at the office party.

  • Encourage employees to be fun and creative, but leave the revealing costumes for outside the workplace.
  • Provide basic guidelines on what types of costumes may be considered inappropriate, including political ones (i.e. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton) or costumes with excessive blood and gore.
  • Consider a themed Halloween party which will allow employees input and an opportunity to focus employees towards more appropriate ideas for costumes.
  • Even better, encourage departments to come up with their own theme and coordinating costumes (which will encourage teamwork and a “review” of costume ideas beforehand).
  • Identify a responsible member of management (probably Human Resources) to handle any disputes or complaints over inappropriate costumes.