Surviving Halloween in the Workplace

Halloween party pic

Halloween can be a frightening time at work, in more ways than one. Are you prepared to survive this scary season in the office? 

Avoid Trick or Treating

Arbitrator Jerry A. Fullmer found in First Student, 134 LA 1699, that the employer, a bus contractor, did not have just cause to discharge a driver who treated coworkers to alcohol-infused cupcakes at a Halloween gathering organized at the office by costume-wearing drivers.

Following the conclusion of her work shift, “P” retrieved the cupcakes from her car and, upon entering the Halloween gathering at the bus barn, offered them to the other drivers and stated, “Hey these have alcohol in them. Make sure you don't eat them and then drive your bus!”

Fullmer noted that half the cupcakes were “described as ‘Irish Car Bombs’ and the other half as ‘Strawberry Margarita’. The cupcakes had varying amounts of alcohol respectively in the baked batter; the filling and the icing.”

The Location Manager, who was also at the Halloween party, informed P that she needed to stop distributing the “adult” cupcakes. He “sequestered the cup cake in his office for future possible use as evidence.” 

Shortly thereafter, P was terminated for “serious misconduct” resulting from her possession of an “intoxicating beverage” on company property.

“Arbitrable notice is taken of the fact that a cupcake is eaten, not drunk,” Fullmer pointed out. Fullmer also noted that “there is no evidence that the cup cakes in question were some outlandish type which was essentially a beverage.” 

“A hypothetical ravioli with three ounces of vodka inside baked into the center of a cup cake comes to mind,” Fullmer explained. In contrast, P’s cupcakes were “cupcakes” within the plain meaning of the term. 

Additionally, because the employer failed to submit the cupcake retained by the Location Manager “to laboratory analysis” in order to determine “the amount of alcohol contained in that cupcake … the intoxicating effect of one cup cake is left to speculation.”

As the cupcakes were not drinkable, the employer’s rule against possession of intoxicating beverages in the workplace was not violated by P’s possession of the cupcakes.

Halloween Horseplay

In my personal experience, it’s rare for someone to actually choose “trick” over “treat,” but it must be addressed nonetheless. 

Arbitrator Steven Briggs explored the issue of Halloween-related horseplay in Federal Aviation Administration, 109 LA 699. The grievant, “D”, a white air traffic control specialist, who was visiting a construction site on the employer’s property, “found a piece of rope and, reportedly because it was near Halloween, … tied it into a hangman's noose and hung it over the curtain rod which cordoned off the construction area.” That noose was taken down shortly thereafter.

One month later, however, “Air Traffic Control Specialist J_ returned from vacation and saw a noose hanging outside the doorway leading into the radar room. J_, who is African American, was extremely offended by the noose.” To J, the noose represented “a symbol of genocide and hatred, and basically evil … associated with the Ku Klux Klan.” 

Upon learning of the investigation, D “explained that he had made and displayed a noose just prior to Halloween, that he had no idea it had racial implications, and that it was strictly intended as a Halloween prank.” D apologized to J, and the two men “engaged in a straightforward discussion about the noose … conclud[ing] their conversation with a friendly handshake.” 

Acknowledging that D was not involved in the “November noose,” Briggs held that the employer did not have just cause to suspend D. Briggs noted, however, it’s “possible that [D’s] behavior in October set the stage for what came next.” 

Accordingly, Briggs concluded, “[t]hat is precisely why grown men and women should understand, as a matter of common sense, that they should not goof around at work.” 

Have a Happy Halloween (But Beware)

Despite these cautionary tales, Halloween has its place in the workplace. Whether it’s an opportunity for coworkers to get together over terrifyingly delicious sweets, or a chance to swap scary stories by the water cooler, have a happy and safe Halloween!

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