With the April Fool’s Day coming up, people across the country are planning the best and funniest pranks to play with friends and coworkers. From false news to frothy shoes, it’s when every funny bone is fine-tuned. But when is the line crossed between hilarious and harsh and can one stroke turn into legal proceedings?
Jordan Brown, DAS Law Legal Advisor
has some rules for joking …
What is the position of the law to carry out April Fool’s Day jokes at work?
Even if it’s April 1st, the normal rules for your conduct in the workplace still apply.
When is a “prank” seen as going too far in the eyes of the law?
Most people can enjoy a joke, but all too often someone crosses the mark. And even if the joke is within reasonable limits, a colleague can still react very badly.
At the very least, practical jokes could violate a company’s internal policies about health and safety or dignity at work. In the worst case scenario, they could lead to legal disputes or police involvement. A famous example came in 2014 when a US high school employee sent her daughter a text saying she heard gunfire and was hiding in one of the classrooms. Her daughter then alerted the police who were visiting the school so as not to find anything wrong; They then arrested the employee for violating the peace.
Could an April Fool’s Day joke be viewed as workplace harassment?
Absolutely! Employers are obliged to care for their employees in order to ensure a harassment-free workplace. Certain practical jokes or pranks could be construed as promoting or promoting an unsafe or even discriminatory work environment if they create a humiliating, hostile or intimidating environment for other employees based on a “protected characteristic” such as gender, race, disability, Sexuality, gender based reassignment, age, etc.
Can employers be held liable for practical jokes made by workers?
Employers can and will be held liable for an employee’s practical jokes or behavior (ie, for vicarious liability). The vicarious agent refers to a situation in which someone is held responsible for the actions of another person. In the context of a job, an employer can be held liable for the behavior of its employees, provided that it can be demonstrated that they took place in the course of their employment.
An employer would have to prove that he does not tolerate or accept this behavior. To do this, they need evidence such as a firm policy on acceptable behavior and bullying / harassment, as well as evidence that they are rigorously investigating and sanctioning violations of the policy.
Are there examples in the UK of an April Fool’s joke leading to a lawsuit?
In the case of Otomewo against Carphone Warehouse Ltd.  Two employees took their manager’s phone and changed his Facebook status. They said he was “finally out of the closet” and “gay and proud”. The staff knew the manager wasn’t gay; However, the manager later claimed discrimination on the basis of the company’s sexual orientation and succeeded in the labor court which found that the behavior of the two employees was “in the course of employment” and that Carphone Warehouse was liable.
Can an employer prohibit April fools from being carried out in the workplace?
While it can be viewed as unfair and detrimental to corporate morale, the reality is that April Fool’s pranks have no place in the modern work environment. Never forget that pranks require “sacrifice”. If a person feels alienated, bullied, or harassed by colleagues, they can file a complaint or ultimately bring a lawsuit against the company in the labor court. Not only is this harming the work environment and can affect productivity and business in general, but it can lead to adverse media coverage and even unlimited fines if the prank is a serious breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act from 1974 represents.
Disclaimer: This information is provided for general guidance on rights and obligations and does not constitute formal legal advice as no relationship has been established between lawyer and client