Halloween is the greatest holiday. There are no obligations to visit Grandma or humor your mother by silently listening to Uncle Hank's slightly offensive stories. You don't have to make a fancy meal. You get to dress up in a costume and eat candy. And even if you don't like costumes, you can still eat candy. Could there be a better holiday?

Well, not everyone loves Halloween like I do, which means that before you throw that office Halloween party, you need to think about a few things. And even more unfortunately, some people who love Halloween lack good sense. Jimmy Lin, vice president of product management and corporate development at The Network, which helps clients with ethics and compliance issues like this every day, offered some tips for handling the Halloween fun.

  • Set a positive tone. Halloween is a great opportunity for employees to celebrate and have fun together. Educate employees on the office's Halloween policies and guidelines. Consider using office literature, posters, messages from the CEO or president, company intranet, etc., to communicate with employees. Setting a positive tone, as well as the expectation of work-appropriate behavior, will ensure that everyone has a great time.
  • Reiterate that participation in any and all Halloween activities is voluntary. Sure, it's a great opportunity for everyone to gather together, but there are many reasons an employee may not feel comfortable participating. A message from HR or even the CEO letting them off the hook will ensure that no one feels uncomfortable.
  • Be mindful of religion. Halloween started as a Christian holiday known as All Saints Day or All Hallows. Some employees might still view Halloween as a religious holiday and request time off to observe the day, so consider how you would respond to such requests. However, keep in mind that if you compensate employees who participate in the festivities, you will also need to compensate employees who choose not to participate.
  • Set a Halloween dress code. Although most employees already know what's appropriate and not for the workplace, it still doesn't hurt to set some Halloween costume guidelines. For example: no costumes that reflect stereotypical images of people, threaten anyone's safety, or incorporate toy weapons. Show employees examples of appropriate costumes. You may also want to implement a costume theme like "superheroes" in conjunction with the guidelines. Or create a group costume contest as a way to bring employees together.
  • Reiterate the harassment policy. Employees may be more likely to play pranks, make jokes, or send insensitive emails on the pretense that it's Halloween. If an employee shows up in an inappropriate costume for work, this could trigger inappropriate remarks, jokes, or other forms of behavior that could be considered harassment from other office employees. Avoid problems by stressing the company's "inclusive culture" and "zero tolerance" policy for harassment beforehand.
  • Remind employees this is still a work function. When people are dressed up in costumes and celebrating, especially at an off-site office party, it's very common for some employees to start to feel as though they're not at work. This, in turn, can cause employees to behave in ways that are inconsistent with workplace behavior standards--whether in the form of sexual innuendos, fighting, or culturally insensitive behaviors.