Perhaps fortunately, April 1, a day designated April Fools’ Day, falls on a Saturday this year, but that doesn’t mean plenty of employees won’t have access to doing something stupid at work that could get them fired, or arrested.
April Fools’ Day, according to Merriam-Webster, is “characteristically marked by the playing of practical jokes.”
A practical joke is defined as, “a prank intended to trick or embarrass someone or cause physical discomfort.”
A workplace is no place to engage in conduct intended to trick or embarrass another person or cause physical discomfort, yet too many people feel emboldened to play a prank on their co-workers
Take, for example, Angela Timmons, who, while working at a Spartanburg, South Carolina, college, pranked her daughter on April 1, 2014, by texting her and claiming to have heard shots fired on campus and that she was hiding. Her daughter, who was out of town, could not reach her mother in response and called the police. More than a dozen deputies responded to the workplace, but found no active shooter.
According to the police report, Timmons told police that “she sent the text as an April Fools’ joke and that she has done such jokes on April Fools’ in the past.”
Timmons was arrested and charged with breach of peace and other offenses.
Even outside of April 1, employees too often play pranks or engage in horseplay.
For example, in 2004, Tennie Pierce was a 17-year firefighter for Los Angeles who had a strong allegiance to the department. However, “that allegiance began unraveling” when Pierce’s peers “mixed dog food in his spaghetti – a practical joke intended to ‘humble’ him” because Pierce declared himself “Big Dog” in a volleyball game, the Los Angeles Times reported. Pierce alleged this happened to him because he was Black, even though Pierce was accused of “hazing” rituals himself, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Pierce was paid $1.5 million to settle a claim.
More recently, golfer Tiger Woods had to apologize in February after his prank with Justin Thomas went viral. He gave Thomas a tampon to joke about Thomas’ performance on the ninth hole during a tournament, a statement designed to indicate that Thomas was playing like a girl.
When asked about it after it went viral, Woods defended himself, stating that it was “supposed to be, you know, all fun and games, but obviously, it hasn’t turned out that way.” He said it was just “friends having fun” and apologized if he offended anyone. He added: “We play pranks on one another all the time” and “virally it didn’t come across that way.”
Whether April 1 or any other day, the workplace should not be an environment where co-workers engage in conduct that is designed to humiliate or embarrass another person. Although it seems consensual when everyone is laughing, it just takes someone crossing the line that can cause big problems.
And I promise you don’t know where that line is.
The best advice is to prohibit outright any conduct that demoralizes, humiliates, or embarrasses an employee. Any physical touching should be equally off-limits. For example, someone put a “kick me” sign on the back of an employee, and someone actually kicked him.
Employers should enforce a civil and respectful workplace all year, all the time. Pranks and horseplay are the antitheses of civility.