Office Halloween parties and costume contests are a fun way to celebrate this time of year. However, offensive costumes will ruin the fun and, more importantly, could even result in a human rights complaint, the consequences of which are likely to haunt an employer long after October 31st.
In Ontario, the Human Rights Code entitles every employee to the right to freedom from harassment in the workplace. Halloween costumes that are racist, sexist, based on oppressive stereotypes, or that otherwise project an unwelcome message rooted in a prohibited ground of discrimination could be found to constitute harassment under human rights legislation.
Employers do not need to prohibit employees from wearing costumes or cancel office Halloween parties in order to comply with their human rights obligations. Rather, communicating to employees in advance that the employer will not tolerate inappropriate and/or offensive costumes and stressing the importance of maintaining an inclusive and non-discriminatory work environment will help ensure that workplace Halloween festivities do not stray into territory that potentially infringes employees’ human rights.
Ultimately, when employers take ownership over protecting and promoting human rights, the result is an inclusive work environment that allows employees to focus on Halloween’s most important feature: candy.
With Samantha Cass, articling student.