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Don't be tricked into laying on a troublesome treat

A Shropshire HR expert has warned that office Halloween parties could have frightening consequences for employers.

Ishbel Lapper, of Shropshire HR Solutions, says an increasing number of UK firms are following the American tradition of celebrating Halloween in the workplace.

But she warns that office parties and Halloween events can land companies in hot water if they fail to stick to employment laws.

Ishbel, whose company was shortlisted for best new small business in this year’s county business awards, said employers should take extra care to avoid Halloween turning into a scary legal minefield.

“There are a number of employment issues which can cause problems for employers with events such as Halloween parties,” she said.

“Most obviously, there is the problem of discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 specifically prohibits discriminating against anyone on the grounds of religion – whether that is a major religion or a less mainstream one.

“There are 57,000 people who identify as Pagans in this country, and you must take every care to avoid doing anything which singles them out for their beliefs. Halloween is a particularly dangerous time because it has such significance for Pagans, and they can feel their beliefs are being mocked.”

Ishbel said the issue of fancy dress also came with its own pitfalls.

“If fancy dress is compulsory and a person is made to wear something which holds them, or their beliefs, up for ridicule, they can justifiably bring a claim against you.

“In X v Y, an employment tribunal found that a gay employee was harassed at a workplace fancy-dress event that he could not opt out of and lent itself to banter of a sexual nature that could easily offend.”

Employers should also be wary of Halloween-related misconduct and inappropriate posts on social media, which might bring their company into disrepute, she added.

“For example, in the case of Biggin Hill Airport v Derwich, the employee was dismissed after she placed an image of a witch as a screensaver on the computer of a colleague with whom she had fallen out.

“These sorts of cases should serve as a reminder to all employers that whilst office parties can be a great way of boosting morale and building team spirit, there are still legal pitfalls to bear in mind when deciding to stage them.”

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