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What do Halloween and EPLI have in common?

29 Nov

Jack-o-lantern

We like to stump you here at the Insurance Community Center and what better opportunity than Halloween.

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays—no pressure with gift giving and usually no hangover the next day. It is not our goal to ruin every holiday for all of you by putting the “insurance spin” to the festivities, but rather to make you aware of the real exposures attached to these celebrations so you, or your customers, are not blind sighted by a lawsuit.

Halloween is a much bigger holiday than most of us might have realized. According to consumer studies, behind Christmas, Americans spend more money on Halloween than any other holiday. Halloween adds more than $10 billion dollars annually to the gross domestic product. On the insurance side of this issue, there are more pedestrian car accidents on Halloween night than any other time during the year. There is always the concern with the crazies that purportedly try to injure the trick-or-treaters with tainted or dangerous treats.

The festive Halloween mood has long been a time of celebration in offices, insurance agencies included. It marks the beginning of the holiday season. It is estimated that over 1/3 of employer’s offer Halloween celebrations at work. From a workplace standpoint, celebrating Halloween has been a benefit in team building; reducing stress and tension and nurturing creativity. Those are all the positive aspects of the office Halloween celebration and certainly the way I fondly remember those parties in the good old days.

But the mood has changed and with that change comes the reality of employee discontent. I was surprised to read so many articles about EPLI claims and the office Halloween parties—who would have thought? Employment Practices Liability has been available for decades and we all should be well aware of the importance of offering Employment Practices Liability (EPLI) to all of business insurance clients. We are accustomed to thinking about EPLI as relates sexual harassment; wrongful termination; discrimination and now the wage and hour allegations. So how does Halloween fit into this group of coverages. In an article titled “Imprudent Halloween Policies Can Be the Nail in the Coffin to FLSA and Title VII Compliance” there is a discussion on the two federal laws relate to employment practices and celebrating Halloween. http://hr.complianceexpert.com/news/imprudent-halloween-policies-can-be-the-nail-in-the-coffin-to-flsa-and-title-vii-compliance-1.93995?qr=1

Before considering putting on a Halloween celebrations , remember to consider all the issues related to inappropriate dress, unsuitable behavior, religious beliefs, employee safety, as well as the company image. Then also make sure you have the proper employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) coverages, to guard against any claims. There was an excellent article written by Keven Moore titled Halloween Celebration in the Workplace can be Risky on 10/16/12 that discusses many of the issues we are highlighting in this article that can be accessed at : http://www.kyforward.com/2012/10/keven-moore-on-insurance-halloween-celebration-in-the-workplace-can-be-risky/

Here are some broad categories that cause issue with the celebration in the workplace:

Religious:
There have always been questions to whether Halloween is a Christian, Pagan, or Secular holiday and therein lays the problem. There seems to be agreement that Halloween evolved out of a Catholic holiday called All Hallows Eve which occurs the day before All Saints Day, a general celebration of the saints on November 1. The obvious problem with celebrating this holiday in the office is if it offends anyone’s religious beliefs and forces them into an environment of celebrating a holiday they either do not believe in or are opposed to celebrating. Certainly this same claim could be made for Christmas, as well.

Inappropriate Costume:
It is very difficult to control what employees may consider to be an appropriate costume. In an effort to maintain a professional and discrimination-free workplace, there must be “rules” that govern what the employees can wear. In any office there is always an employee or two who will push the boundaries to the point of violating the company’s dress code and may even be politically incorrect for the office environment. In this year of a presidential election, we have to be overly cautious not to violate an individual’s rights to their own political views and discriminate in any way by making remarks OR appearances that would offend them.

Harassment:
Face it, not everyone has a sense of humor. Some employees may see Halloween as an opportunity to engage in practical jokes, or send and receive emails with menacing, threatening or explicit content. Most companies have email and/or Internet policies that explicitly preclude this practice and Halloween should be no exception to the policies. What appears to all be in good fun—may not be funny!

Workplace Violence:
It is hard to believe that his could be a concern in the Halloween office party; however in the society that we live in today, employers must set limits on masks and costumes and prohibit toy or real weapons as costume props.

Diversity:
Do not pressure employees to participate. If an employee advises you that he or she wishes to abstain from the Halloween celebration, respect that decision.

Safety Guidelines:
Each workplace has its own set of unique risk exposures and hazards and employers must be cautious of the safety hazards that clothing from costumes around any moving parts or machinery may cause injury. Or Masks that might obscure an employee’s field of vision which could prove to be hazardous. Costumes not flame resistant should be prohibited in certain work settings with ignition sources. Employees should be reminded that safety rules must be observed at all times and that any costume that could create a hazard is not permitted. If children are allowed to attend the office Halloween party it is important to create a safe environment and assess what potential safety exposures there are to the children.

Alcohol Consumption:
As with any office party or celebration, alcohol consumption can also be a significant safety and liability concern. In terms of EPLI, we all know that too much alcohol can lead a variety of inappropriate types of behavior.

This article comes AFTER the holiday has ended this year so hopefully you got through the celebration unscathed. As we approach this holiday season, we have to be mindful of the diversity in our offices and avoid any potential violation of our employees’ rights and privacy. This is a message we should be sharing with our clients, as well. The community wishes all of you a fun and safe holiday season.

 

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