When pranks go wrong: Advice on managing April Fool’s in the workplace

Moira Grassick, COO at Peninsula Ireland looks at some April Fools’ pranks that its advisory team has experienced
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“Employers may also become vicariously liable for the actions of their employees and a proactive approach on managing same should be adapted”

April Fool’s Day is fast approaching and although it can be a day of fun and antics for the most humorous of us, it can be a challenging time for those on the receiving end of jokes and pranks.

“It is imperative that employees are made fully aware that although a harmonious and fun environment is welcomed, any actions that may be perceived as offensive, intimidating, or threatening will not be accepted in accordance with their company’s policy, ethos and culture regarding dignity and respect in the workplace,” said Moira Grassick, COO at Peninsula Ireland.

“It is important to note that employers may also become vicariously liable for the actions of their employees and a proactive approach on managing same should be adapted. Although some roles can be challenging, introducing a fun element to employment can also result in a happier and more productive workforce.

“We certainly hear some wild and wacky calls on our advice lines at Peninsula. Here are the top three of the most humorous and not so humorous April Fools’ pranks that our advisory team has experienced:

  • Employees at a bakery were in high spirits supporting customers on April Fool’s Day. All employees agreed to go on lunch around the same time but had staggered return times from the break. One of the bakers thought it may be fun to place some baking flour in a party popper, so purchased these party poppers on their lunch. Having returned to the bakery, they quickly removed the streamers and replaced them with baking flour ready for popping! As one employee hid to the side of the doorway, another watched for the return of their colleagues, who, by the way, all wore black coloured uniforms. As a black clothed individual entered the bakery, the party popper was pulled, and an explosion of flour was released. As the cloud of flour cleared, the employees suddenly realised that it was not their returning colleague, but in fact the parish priest who was stood there covered in flour.
  • A team of 10 employees at a hair salon were geared up for a day of fun and laughter and had one employee in mind who they intended to prank. This employee had a fear and allergy of strawberries, and all other employees knew this. It was always discussed in a light-hearted manner. Five cartons of strawberries were purchased and placed in this employee’s locker and hairdressing station, as well as the storeroom and toilet. The employee noticed strawberries at their station on their return from lunch, said nothing and went to the loo. On entering the toilet they saw further strawberries, left, then went to the storeroom where they found yet more strawberries. The employee suffered a panic attack and subsequently went on long term sick claiming stress and harassment. It was clearly not a humorous day for them. The employer at the salon was held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees.
  • A carer at a childcare facility thought it would be humorous to wear a Halloween mask -specifically a “Scream” mask – to create some fun with the children. The employee donned the mask, went outside, and proceeded to look in through the windows of the facility. The children became incredibly distressed to the point where their parents had to be called to comfort them. This employee definitely crossed the line in terms of conduct and the professional care of the service user.

“Although these occurrences may bring some laughter, the consequences far outweigh the acts themselves,” continued Grassick. “Employers are reminded to ensure that employees are fully aware of acceptable conduct in the workplace, especially on days such as April Fool’s.

“Fun can be had in many ways and in a light-hearted way, however, it is important to note that the perception of fun will always be subjective. It is therefore at times best to leave the trickery for anywhere but work.

“On this April Fool’s Day, have fun, be mindful, be kind, and also remember your professional responsibility as both an employer and employee, from an HR as well as a health & safety perspective.”

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