April Fool's Day | 5 office pranks gone wrong & what HR should do about them

5 office pranks gone wrong & what HR should do about them

Today marks April Fool’s Day, the annual tradition that sees people play practical jokes and hoaxes on one another.

After a couple of years working remotely, many employees have made a recent return to the office, reforging friendships with co-workers, thus making the chance to pull a joke on one another all the more tempting.

However, while some may see the funny side to a prank in the workplace, others may be easily offended, which can quite often lead to landing the prankster in hot water, and on occasion resulting in someone getting fired for their unfortunate choice.

HR Grapevine has collated a list of five of the worst April Fool’s pranks that have previously gone wrong in the office.

Bogus bonus

When the PA to a senior director came up with her April Fool’s joke, she never envisaged she would make the entire company angry as a result. Sending an email from her boss’ account, she told every employee that they would receive a hefty bonus for their hard work. According to Business Leader, she quickly realised that no one understood it was a prank after receiving ‘thank you’ responses. Unsurprisingly, neither her boss nor co-workers were pleased, resulting in her leaving the business.

An awkward eruption

Reader Digest reported that a producer at WNAC-TV was out of a job after he thought it would be a good idea to say that a volcano had started to erupt in Massachusetts. The news station ran a bulletin stating that the Great Blue Hill had begun spitting flames and lava, leaving viewers in a panic phoning local police to see if they needed to evacuate. It’s safe to say this April Fool’s prank didn’t go down too well.

An affair to remember

While doing her regular coffee run, a fashion student thought she had come up with the perfect hoax for April Fool’s. Inspired by a movie, she announced to her team that she was pregnant, and that the father was the director at the fashion firm. While this was untrue, her prank exposed the truth behind a hidden affair in the workplace, leaving her out of a job, Business Leader reported.

Cress crisis

One afternoon, an employee was sat at his desk eating an egg and cress sandwich. Business Pundit reported that, as a prank, the employee decided to put cress and some water into the keyboards on a bank of desks on a Friday afternoon (prior to a bank holiday weekend). By the time Tuesday came around, managers went into the office to find that cress was growing out of all of the keyboards. After the IT department caught wind of this, a memo was sent out to all employees about eating and drinking at their desks, which resulted in a ban.

Wrapping up the office

In 2019, HR Grapevine reported on a prank that an employee played on her boss after they called in sick as a form of light-hearted payback. The Sydney-based Author and Podcaster, Jo Thornley, decorated her boss’ entire office with wrapping paper, covering everything from the desk, chairs and even pens and pencils.” But, luckily, it seems that her boss didn't take it badly.

‘Tactful reminder’

Employees and HR should be mindful of the potential dangers of playing pranks. Last year, Simon Bellm, a Partner in the employment group at the law firm DMH Stallard, previously told HR Grapevine that while employers won’t want to be “killjoys”, reminding staff about their conduct is key to remember.

He said: “It would be wise to give staff a tactful reminder to make sure any practical jokes do not cause offence and do not create a safety risk,” he explained.

Potential claims

Some of the biggest risks to consider when playing pranks in the workplace are focused around causing offence to others and health and safety – two areas that HR often looks after.

Bellm said: “What is funny to one person can easily cause offence to another. If that offence is connected to a person’s sex, race, religious belief or any other protected characteristic the employer could be facing a discrimination claim.”

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Under the Equality Act 2010 protected characteristics include: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

“Similarly, if the joke goes wrong and somebody is hurt, it is the employer who is likely to be responsible for any claim,” the legal expert added.

While employees can have fun this April Fool’s Day, it is crucial for everyone to be made aware of the potential dangers associated with playing a prank in the workplace.

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