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How an inappropriate Halloween costume cost an employee their job

The Halloween costume that isn’t appropriate for work

Halloween costumes boggle my mind!

The topic for my last post was how inappropriate Halloween costumes can make or break a career.  I write on this topic every year in an attempt to provide insight on what HR and managers really think about Halloween costumes.  I also try to provide WHY these groups think this way.  Hint: Even if your manager DOESN’T tell you your costume may be inappropriate, this doesn’t mean they think your costume is OK.  Whether your manager says anything to your or not, if your manager doesn’t care for your choice of costume or dress, they are probably losing respect for you as an employee, and your career will reflect this loss of respect.

Even when I worked in conservative corporate America, there was always a dumbass that wore a costume that pushed the limits and left a black mark on their employee file.  You would be surprised how few times the employee was actually notified. On the flip side, every Halloween, I would see some very ingenious and clever costume where political correctness wasn’t an issue.  The employees that dressed in these ingenious costumes received exposure that they may not have otherwise had and their careers were literally launched. 

Annual predictions

In my yearly Halloween costume post, I try to predict what costumes will show up and put a black mark on their career with an inappropriate costume.  This year was no different and I thought a few themes that might turn up this year would include:

  • Chris Brown and a bruised and battered Rihanna
  • Chemical weapons victim

Both of the above are recent topics in the news and I could easily picture an employee failing to be cute or funny. There was one costume that I thought about listing but even I couldn’t go this far, a Boston Marathon victim. 

With the Boston Red Sox just winning the World Series and the B Strong in the outfield, I thought that there would be no need to put this on the list, and frankly, I thought it would be disrespectful. 

Sure enough

some employee not only showed up in a Boston Marathon victim costume, they tweeted their picture under the Twitter ID @someSKANKinMI. 

HOLY CRAP! Not only showing up in a disrespectful and disgusting costume but having the balls (or stupidity) to associate your company with your costume AND your NSFW twitter ID?

I don’t make up these topics for these posts, and this stuff really does happen. I couldn’t make this stuff up, so I post the link here, and yes, apparently the employee was fired. In typical HR fashion, I will say that I don’t know all the details, I am just reporting on the article, and I have read subsequent articles where the employee is sorry for her costume.  She and her family have received threats of violence which is unfortunate. 

Do the right thing

In thinking about this particular situation and knowing other corporate cultures, I came to a realization. As much as the employer did the right thing in this case (in my opinion, based on the information presented), there are many managers and HR departments that:

  • Wouldn’t have the courage to take any public action
  • Not realized that the costume may have been inappropriate (despite public outcry from the other employees)
  • Not say anything to the employee and just whisper behind the employees back.   The employee would never go further in their career and not realize what happened. 

This Halloween costume incident got me to thinking

One employee came to work dressed as a Boston Marathon victim and tweeted out their picture. I have to wonder if other similarly offensive costumes showing up. I applaud the HR department for letting this employee go. My battle-scarred, HR mentality that has no faith in humanity. I couldn’t help but wonder how many inappropriate costumes came and went with no action taken.

For every action there is a lack of action

The reason I blog here is to give some insight into what HR and Managers really think so that you know the rules that the judges are playing by. As often as we see HR taking action and making moves, we know that there is also a lack of action. Just because the HR department or the manager doesn’t take any action, doesn’t mean that all is right the world. It is these passive aggressive HR departments, which are the most dangerous. No one is receiving any feedback and learning how to act differently in the future.  Here is the passive-aggressive life cycle.    

  • Employee crosses the line
  • HR huddles in their office and shares their disbelief on what just happened. 
  • HR doesn’t take action or talk with an employee that goes over the line. 
  • When it comes time for a raise, new opportunity, or promotion, the employee stays stagnate. 
  • The behavior usually doesn’t change because no one has held the “serious talk” with the offending employee. 
  • The employee doesn’t understand why they are not able to get ahead in their career
  • HR just waits for the employee to quit. 

Professional courage

Obviously, there are many great HR departments out there. This was witnessed as the employer who let the employee go that came to work in the Boston Marathon costume go. (again, I do not know all of the details) There are also plenty of talks happening behind closed doors between employees and managers / HR departments which we don’t ever see. Remember, having a serious talk with an offending employee isn’t an easy thing to do and no one wants to have one. No one wants to have this conversation with a repeat offender.  This is why these talks don’t always take place, and when they do, the message may be diluted.

With this in mind, remember that as an employee of a company, we are a representative of that company to existing and potential customers, new employees, vendors, and potential renewal/repeat business.  We need to keep our companies best interest at heart. There are a lot of HR departments, customers, managers, vendors, etc. that won’t say they are offended. They will just take their business somewhere else.

When in doubt, don’t.

See you at the after party,

HRNasty

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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