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Don't joke your way out of a job this April Fool’s Day

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 27 March 2015
  2. Employment
  3. 0 comments
Unimpressed prankee

We all like a good prank on April Fool’s Day. However, you’ll be the one who looks a fool if you find yourself facing disciplinary action or the sack for an ill-judged jape.

So before you conceive an office prank as a crude tribute to Loki, the trickster god of Norse legend, consider this.

What to avoid in a workplace prank

Don’t do anything destructive or disruptive

A good prank (and by “good”, I mean “that won’t get you in trouble”) should not cause any kind of damage to office property or a colleague’s property.

Even if destruction is not specifically part of the prank, you should consider the potential unintended consequences of anything you are doing – gluing a colleague’s stationery to the desk is all well and good, but if you are using particularly strong glue, you could cause damage to the desk.

If you are set on doing something that could potentially damage property (such as the old “stapler in the jelly” prank) it may be safest if you can find a duplicate of the item in question and sub it out. This way, even if the stapler is damaged or rendered irreparably sticky, you can give your colleague their own stapler back, and all is well.

This also applies to something that may not cause damage, but will require extensive clean-up afterwards. Don’t actually fill an office with packing peanuts unless you are prepared to help get rid of them afterwards. (Alternatively, just pretend that you filled it with packing peanuts).

Don’t do anything that will demean or embarrass the victim

This can vary from person to person, but you should be able to judge whether a prank is going to humiliate someone.

This is especially important if the victim is your boss – doing something that will embarrass them in front of your colleagues could really undermine their authority, which could in turn get you into a lot of trouble.

Consider the victim and your relationship with them

I know I said at the beginning that “we all love a good prank”, but I’m afraid that isn’t strictly true. It’s best to focus your pranking on colleagues with whom you are quite friendly, or at least who you know will see the funny side.

Even if you are friendly with the colleagues you are pranking, bear in mind that they are still just colleagues. A prank that may go down a treat with one of your pals from the pub may not fly with a work acquaintance.

This is especially important if you are playing a prank on your boss – as mentioned above, playing a prank that makes them look silly could backfire massively. Only play a prank on them if you have a good relationship with them and you are sure that they will appreciate it.

You may want to play a prank on someone you don’t know or get on with that well in order to break the ice with them – exercise caution when doing this. They may appreciate being included in the fun, or they may be annoyed by it, further souring your working relationship and their opinion of you.

If you want to get to know someone in the office better, try asking about their hobbies or something. Once you’ve done that, then you can cover their office in tin foil.

On a similar note…

Don’t do it to intentionally get back at someone

It’s possible that there is someone in your office that you just don’t get along with. However, you should not allow your pranking to be fuelled by a lust for revenge, no matter how tempting it might be.

When you are planning to prank someone you don’t like, you may find that your ideas tilt away from the “fun and wacky” end of the spectrum to the “mean-spirited and hurtful” end. If you perform a prank like this, or even a more benign prank, it will probably fuel further discontent between the two of you, and there is a good chance that the colleague will lodge a complaint, likely landing you in some disciplinary trouble. If they are aware that you don’t like them, it could be interpreted as bullying or even discrimination, a definite workplace no-no.

Our Problems at Work section has more information on how to deal with discrimination, health and safety, and other work issues raised in this post. Stay sensible this April Fool’s day – and keep your wits about you.

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