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Office pranks that go wrong can be legal and HR nightmares—and that’s no joke!

Posted on: March 30th, 2017 | Category: Human Resources, Our Blog, Terminations

office pranks gone wrong

Sometimes we come across an article headline that just simply says it all. Case in point:

“Avoid Jail or Lawsuits for April Fools’ Work Pranks”

Yes. Let’s all strive to do that, shall we? This Houston Employment Law Blog post by Aditi Mukherji, JD, certainly is a good resource, and not just as we head into April Fools’ Day. This odd holiday falls on a Saturday this year, reducing the number of people who will be at work, where pranks can go horribly wrong. But since not all people work Monday-to-Friday, and some jokesters out there cannot confine their stunts to just April 1st, we think the article is worth a read any time of year.

The blog post offers great tips, including:

  • Don’t impede team productivity with your prank.
  • Don’t accidentally sabotage a person’s work with a gag that frustrates them or gets in the way of them doing time-sensitive tasks.
  • Don’t single anyone out to avoid harassment or discrimination complaints from an employee who didn’t take your prank as just a joke.
  • Avoid potentially offending pictures or jokes that refer to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or religion.
  • Keep pranks simple and short-lived, and make sure that they don’t cause permanent damage or alteration to property.
  • Don’t set up a prank that could potentially injure someone.

“Remember what you intend to say or imply with a joke or prank may not be how it is received or perceived, especially coming from a work supervisor or upper management,” says Tina Hamilton, PHR, president of myHR Partner. Always, err on the side of caution in the workplace when it comes to humor.

Pretending to fire or reprimand someone is a really bad idea for an office prank.

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Talk about something that has potential to trigger a hostile work environment complaint! Bosses, please take heed of this April Fools’ Day advice from the Houston Employment Law Blog article:

Don’t reprimand, fire, or lay-off anyone (pretend or for real). Firing or laying-off someone on April 1 will not only make for an awkward exit interview, it will cause confusion. As one manager told ABC News, “[The employee] was convinced it was a joke even after I took his keys and employee ID. As he left my office he kept stopping, looking back, waiting for me to say ‘April Fools!’ But I never did.” Considering how rough the economy is right now, pulling a fake reprimand, firing, or lay-off prank is a bad idea, too.

Managers and employers who want to have some fun in the workplace should not do so at an employee’s expense, says Hamilton. Never forget the authority you hold at work, which can cause a simple joke to be taken in a bad way by people who report to you. You don’t want to accidentally create low morale or awkwardness between staff and management with an ill-conceived prank.

There are lots of good ways to have fun and build employee satisfaction

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