Ghost or Ghoul? Discrimination in the Workplace at Halloween | LabourBlawg

Ghost or Ghoul? Discrimination in the Workplace at Halloween

by Emma Flood on October 30, 2022

It was a dark, dark night and employees all over the country were preparing to celebrate….Halloween is becoming increasingly popular every year and many workplaces have begun to join in the holiday festivities. However, what they may not have considered is how All Hallows’ Eve may bring up some scary employment issues, especially those relating to discrimination. In this post, we look at some cases relating to Halloween and employment law.

One of the things often forgotten, is that Halloween is, in fact, a traditional religious holiday. In the 2011 consensus, 57,000 people in the UK identified as being Pagan. Halloween is the Pagan celebration of All Hallows’ Eve and thus employers must respect the beliefs of those who celebrate Halloween for religious reasons. The Equality Act 2010 includes “any religion” in the definition of religion and thus Paganism is afforded the same level of protection as other mainstream religions. This has in fact been tested in the courts. In Holland v Angel Supermarket and another ET/3301005/2013, a Pagan employee agreed with her manager in the convenience store where she worked to work a later shift to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve by attending a Wiccan ceremony. The owner of the store, a Sikh, on discovering she had done this apparently seemed disgusted by her beliefs. Miss Holland was made to feel that there was something wrong with her beliefs, was mocked by other members of staff and subsequently dismissed under the guise of staffing requirements being reduced. Miss Holland successfully made a claim for discrimination the grounds that she was discriminated against based on her religion and beliefs.

Discrimination through Fancy Dress

Guidelines on fancy-dress are becoming ever more common as a result of a religious, political or racial offence that can be caused by certain costumes. For example, The Glasgow Art School issued a warning to patrons who plan on attending their weekend hHalloween events stating that “black face” or “brown face” would not be tolerated on the premises. The comment on their Facebook page said:

“Blackface demonstrates a lack of respect for black people, with it’s long history of discrimination, degradation and bigotry. It’s racist history was used to mock black people and present harmful stereotypes. Its present day use often actively and unashamedly represents those same stereotypes.”

Permitting or encouraging costumes that are racially politically or otherwise insensitive may result in a discrimination claim, especially where employees are given no option or made to feel bad about not taking part in fancy dress. In the employment tribunal case X v Y ET/1605521/09, an employee successfully made a claim for discrimination after regular fancy dress events meant that he was harassed on the basis that he was homosexual. Fancy dress days were held at the call centre he worked in to raise money for charity. However, some of the male staff often dressed as female celebrities. This behaviour led to ‘banter’ that was sexual in nature with the men using effeminate voices, limp wrist gestures and directly commenting to X that he was trying to look up their skirts. X found his colleagues behaviour highly offensive and derogatory towards gay men and thus was successful in his claim.

Another interesting case is that of Brown v Young &Co’s Brewery where an employment tribunal found that a black man had been harassed by his employer after commenting on his fancy dress. As part of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, staff were wearing promotional hats. Mr Brown’s employer told him that he “looked like a pimp” which Mr Brown concluded and the tribunal determined was on account of his race. Mr Brown was successful in his claim for harassment.

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