Why Halloween Should Scare the Hell Out of Doctors
The American fascination with Halloween extends far beyond children and is celebrated by many adults with a wide array of taste and judgement. Many medical businesses and their employees and owners decorate their business premises for holidays and some with a great deal of "team spirit" also dress up for a variety of occasions including wearing costumes at Halloween. While I certainly don't want to discourage this display of humanity that makes a workplace more pleasant and fun for employees and inviting and distinctive to patients, both practices require significant oversight and judgment by management.
Decorations, especially in the age of animated, motion activated and often graphically horrific décor should be approached in the context of business risk management:
- Avoid anything that is sexual, religious, satanic or political nature that could be considered offensive, "hostile" or "discriminatory" or that depict women that have been killed or injured;
- "Spooky" or seasonal items like the traditional pumpkins, jack-o lanterns, black cats, ghosts, witches and fall leaves are usually safe;
- Graphic, excessively violent or bloody or "startling" is a red flag. If a piece of animatronic decoration makes everyone scream and jump when it goes off, consider what that might do to the single most fragile patient or visitor at your practice;
- Always beware of premises liability and make sure that the décor doesn't create safety risks either actively (like poking, tripping, electrocuting or falling on top of someone), or passively, by concealing dangers or blocking exits, cameras and other safety equipment.
Likewise, if you are allowing employees to dress up for Halloween or are doing so as an office make sure that it's done with taste. Given the sexualized nature of many adult women's and men's costumes available at your neighborhood Halloween store, make it clear that outfits that are found to be objectionable or inappropriate will need to be altered or changed at management's discretion. Consider making costumes optional, especially if your office has staff that may be uncomfortable or unable to do so due to religious, physical or other subjective, personal concerns and provide your staff with clear guidelines that state that your normal workplace polices and standards still apply. Finally, be clear that costumes that play on ethnic, racial, and other stereotypes are always off limits (remember, people are still regularly stupid enough to wear blackface) and also be careful about those with political themes that may be offensive as well. A Trump or Hillary mask isn't objectionable, but adding handcuffs or Klan hoods certainly may be. Given the nature of the infamous history and lurid accusations faced by both candidates and their families last week, costumes in this theme can easily go wrong.
Election Related Risks: Conflicts in The Workplace
Speaking of the election, hot heads, big mouths, and strong political opinions on all sides can create a contentious workplace. Even if you feel your workplace is a relatively homogenous one, tread lightly on this issue and discourage arguments and political debates and emails in the workplace. They can easily be perceived and claimed to be a cause of discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment. Yes, I agree that you, your patients, and everyone who works for you all have a constitutionally protected right to an opinion, but this doesn't mean the workplace is a smart place to make that an issue and real leaders and adults understand the difference between can and should.
The especially contentious nature of this year's presidential race and its focus on issues that are heavily based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and sexual conduct in particularly graphic language make this one a minefield like we haven't seen in years. So no, don't for instance tell jokes or share any of the "hysterical" memes based on "grabbing" or any other related topic with the office, including your peers and partners and immediately make other who are doing stop immediately.
This all directly corresponds to our previous discussions of employment related liability and the need for both employee practices liability insurance (EPLI) and clear and enforced workplace policies as part of any doctor's professional asset protection plan. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to review those issues in context as well.