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Provocative Halloween costumes are for parties, not work

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 09:44 PM

Halloween can be more trick than treat when costumes are allowed at work. Just imagine your boss showing up dressed like a dominatrix. Scary!

If employees are allowed to dress up - and many are -- they need to make sure their costume selection is right for the office, says Denise Wheeler, an employment lawyer for Fowler White Boggs in Tampa. Employers are responsible when employees don inappropriate Halloween garb to the office

"Just because it's Halloween, doesn't mean you have free reign to be offensive or sexually provocative," she says. "Halloween doesn't put your harassment policy on hold."

Save the sexy nurse, teacher and wench costumes for the adult Halloween party. "These types of outfits aren't just inappropriate; they may encourage people to act in a way that the costume wearer objects to," Wheeler says.

She has even seen a suggestion box costume - innocently and simply made with a box tied around the wearer's neck -- generate inappropriate comments.

And it isn't just sexy costumes that drive employers batty.

A disguise that makes a political or religious statement can get messier than carving a jack-o'-lantern.

It's not a good idea to wear a Barack Obama mask to the office, whether you support him not, Wheeler says. Pregnant nuns and pedophile priests are also office no-nos.

One employer was threatened with litigation when a hospital employee wore a grim reaper outfit to work.

Wheeler says you can be clever and sensitive with Halloween attire. Dress as a "head hunter" (carry a mannequin or doll head around with you) or a "vending machine" costume (dress in black and tape snacks to your body) to amuse your co-workers.

Wearing a cute hat with ears, clever makeup or dressing as your favorite athlete won't earn you any fouls, either.

"The important thing is (for employers) to communicate expectations up front," Wheeler says. "That way, employees won't wear something that could get them sent home."

Wheeler says more businesses are shying away from costumes and instead are allowing employees to bring their children to work to trick or treat and having Halloween potluck parties.


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