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Halloween and workplace human rights

halloween nightThe current movie, “The Dilemma” has caused quite a controversy lately because the character portrayed by actor Vince Vaughn says, “Electric cars are gay.”

There are two sides to the controversy over this line in the film: one side says it supports discrimination against gay people while the other side claims gays are too sensitive.

In Campbellford, Ontario over this past weekend, members of the Royal Canadian Legion there expressed anger and disgust when a partygoer dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member and led around a man in blackface. The two were later awarded a prize for best costume.

Online comments about this incident range from, “lighten up—it’s Halloween” to “these racists should have been kicked out of the Legion.”

I laughed at one particular online comment: “It was Halloween for crying out loud. Who is going to get offended next? Miss PIGGY???

I saw some incredible costumes displayed this Halloween season. Now I’m wondering… Should people with a mental illness be offended when someone dresses up as a serial killer? Is a man who dresses as a woman for Halloween being disrespectful to women or to transvestites?

Too politically correct?

Where do we draw the line? Have we become too politically correct, or are we honestly struggling to create a sensitive and respectful society?

Your responsibility

Managers and business owners are legally responsible for creating a safe and respectful work environment. Do you know where to draw the line?

  • Are you stifling the right to self-expression in the name of human rights?
  • Do your personal values and biases affect your professional judgment?

The challenge

Ask yourself the following challenging questions:

  1. Do you “celebrate” Halloween and other holidays in your workplace? Why or why not?
  2. Do you have guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable costumes/practices?
  3. How would you react if an employee showed up in a Ku Klux Klan costume?

Respect for human rights does not necessarily mean creating a list of prohibited activities.

Respect for human rights means having an ongoing dialogue about what respect means to the people that work in your environment.

Learn don’t Litigate

Be proactive.

Have important discussions with your employees BEFORE someone feels disrespected enough to file a human rights complaint.

Andrew Lawson
LEARN—DON’T LITIGATE

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Andrew Lawson

Trainer and advisor at Learn Don't Litigate
Andrew Lawson is a human rights and health and safety trainer and advisor, currently consulting to both the federal and Ontario governments. Since 1996, he has conducted extensive legal research in the areas of human rights and occupational health and safety law. He has worked in the people management business for over 25 years. Read more
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2 thoughts on “Halloween and workplace human rights
  • I agree with Sandra that we all have personal sensitivities that should be respected everywhere, especially in the workplace. The law generally says that employees are protected from discrimination based on prohibited grounds and from harassment on a wide range of unwanted and vexatious behaviours. The law also requires that employers have policies that address the issue of workplace harassment. Is wearing a KKK outfit harassment? The law is not that clear. Any employer should consult legal counsel prior to making disciplinary decisions, especially in controversial cases. What is clear is that employer’s policies need to address such questions proactively. Watch this blog for further posts on this topic. Great question Sandra–keep ’em coming!

  • Sandra says:

    As someone that lost family in the Holocaust I would probably be offended by someone dressed as Hitler for Halloween. I think everyone has something they are more sensitive about and it would be impossible to predict who would be offended by what.

    People should use common sense in the workplace and think twice about what to wear on Halloween. If they really want to dress as a KKK member they can certainly do that at home.

    That said if someone did come to work as KKK could he/she be reprimanded by the employer if someone complained? What does the law say about that?