Throwing a sweet office party at the end of October can seem like a great way to blow off a little steam, promote team bonding and just have a silly fun time.

But the reality is that mixing Halloween and work is a perilous path beset with all sorts of legal pitfalls, not to mention all the werewolves and vampires.

The potential problems begin from the start with the assumption that everyone in your office is actually interested in celebrating a holiday dedicated to demons, debauchery or drinking, depending on how you happen to roll on All Hallow's Eve.

Truth is there's actually plenty of employees out there who may find the very notion of a Halloween party offensive on religious grounds. 

"This is why attendance should be optional - those who wish to observe Halloween in a particular manner or not observe it at all should not be forced to attend a function that offends them," explains labor and employment law attorney Dennis J. Merley

This is an area where managers should tread particularly lightly, as it could be unlawful to even tease or allow teasing or peer pressuring of employees who choose not to participate in a celebration for religious reasons.

Another reason parties should be optional is that any accidents or injuries that happen, even after workers have left the party, could wind up coming back to haunt the company. 

Speaking of accidents, a party that involves alcohol, cumbersome and often identity-concealing costumes just might be a harassment, OSHA or workman's compensation disaster waiting to happen. 

Sorry to be a wet blanket (which is also not a good costume choice), but it's just common sense that introducing booze and probably a few awkward outfits increases the risk of a mishap or poor decision of some type. 

Now when it comes to costumes, there's a lot of advice out there for get-ups that are "work-appropriate," but as labor and employment attorney David Barron advises, even the most innocent idea can easily go wrong.

"Any safe for work costume can be made inappropriate by simply adding "Sexy" to the title," he explains in a column for The Ladders. "Office Halloween parties are no place for 'sexy' outfits, political statements or costumes that might be offensive based on a protected class such as race or gender."

Barron suggests that offices share clear dress codes for Halloween costumes and even encouraging the coordination of costumes beforehand.

Bottom line, while a Halloween party might seem like a good way to let loose at the office, it's not an excuse to fly by the seat of your pants or throw caution to the wind. You wouldn't do that with any other aspect of your business. The good news is that with the right amount of thoughtfulness and planning, there's no reason to cancel the festivities.

Published on: Oct 27, 2018
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