Employers, along with tricks and treats, the holiday could bring risk of religious discrimination and harassment lawsuits. Employers should review discrimination policies and dress codes and rid themselves of any skeletons lurking in the closet.
Halloween Lesson #1: Reviewing Religious Requests
When Halloween means something spiritual, employees must be accommodated.
How should a manager respond if an employee requests time off on October 31 to observe the Wiccan holiday Samhain Sabbat (or Halloween)? The EEOC identifies this scenario in its guidance on religious accommodation and warns that refusing to accommodate this request could violate Title VII. The EEOC’s example jumped off the page and into the office when a Wiccan employee sued her employer for religious discrimination, alleging that she was terminated because she took a vacation day for Halloween. See Uberti v. Bath & Body Works, No. 09-cv-1647 (D. Conn.). The case ultimately settled out of court.
Halloween Lesson #2: Opting Out Of October Outings
Alternately, employees may decline to dress up or attend Halloween parties because the celebrations violate their religious beliefs.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, in particular, have alleged religious discrimination after refusing to participate in Halloween festivities. One employee filed a Title VII complaint alleging she was fired for refusing to attend a company Halloween party after she explained to her supervisor that she could not participate for religious reasons. Morales v. PNC Bank, N.A., No. 10-1368, 2011 WL 3425644 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 4, 2011). Another employee declined to dress up for Halloween and claimed she suffered reduced work hours and demotion as a result. Meraz v. Jo-Ann Stores, Inc., No. CV 03-2914 GAF, 2004 WL 882458, at *10 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 2, 2004).
Halloween Lesson #3: Carefully Crafted Costumes
Dressing up for Halloween may lead to provocative or offensive choices by individual employees, which could create a risk for discrimination or harassment claims. If an office celebrates with a party or parade, consider dress code guidelines in line with the employee handbook to reduce the risk of inappropriate comments or offensive costumes.
* * *
Employers should consider additional policies, guidelines and training to go along with the fun of October.
To discuss religious accommodation policies or schedule a training for managers, please contact Schiff Hardin’s Labor & Employment Group.