Office pranks can be tricky to pull off. While some workers think these can enliven a boring day at the workplace, some don’t realize they’ve gone too far until someone files a lawsuit — which is never a laughing matter.
We don’t want to discourage you from making the average workday more fun. Just make sure no one gets hurt — physically, mentally, or emotionally. That is, unless you want to end up like these people.
“Pranking is the path to the dark side” — not Yoda
In 2001, former Hooters waitress Jodee Berry won a company-sponsored contest by selling the most number of beers in a month. Since she was able to sell the most brewskis, she was ready to ride the supposed prize: a brand new Toyota.
Sadly, the Toyota she won was not something she could ride.
On the day the prize was awarded, Ms. Berry was led into the restaurant’s parking lot where she was presented not with a shiny new SUV but a small box with an action figure of Yoda from Star Wars. Instead of a Toyota, she got a "toy Yoda."
Furious, Ms. Berry quit her job then sued the company. She cited fraudulent misrepresentation and breach of contract. The case was settled, which granted her a payment large enough to buy any Toyota she wanted.
Hooters management may have lost the suit, but they’ve learned a valuable lesson. To paraphrase Yoda: “The greatest teacher, pranking is.”
The chair pulling catastrophe
The employees at a California bank were just doing their part in keeping with the company’s mission of upholding the highest standards of financial services and putting a smile on people’s faces while they’re at it. To bring out people's smiles, the bank encouraged its staff to perform practical jokes in the workplace.
One prank, unfortunately, was not executed with safety. When employees at the bank executed the classic chair pulling prank on one of their female employees, it did not result in rapturous laughter but in cracked bones and a personal injury case.
Instead of filing a worker’s compensation claim, the injured employee attempted to sue her colleagues. But since the employer encouraged practical jokes to “improve company morale,” the employees who initiated the prank were found to be “just doing their jobs”, i.e., the chair pulling was well within their scope of tasks.
Additionally, the trial court granted the co-workers’ motion for summary judgment, which contended that workers’ compensation was the injured employee’s exclusive remedy.
There’s nothing wrong with pulling off a few office pranks as long as no one gets hurt (see: Jim putting Dwight's stuff in the vending machine in an episode of The Office). So unless you can safely pull off a potentially back-breaking prank, it is best to leave it to the pros.
There’s nothing wrong with pulling off a few office pranks as long as no one gets hurt. So unless you can safely pull off a potentially back-breaking prank, it is best to leave it to the pros.
You’re under a fake arrest
Former Southwest Airlines (SWA) customer service agent Marcie Fuerschbach was nearing the end of her probationary period with the company when airline officers approached her and claimed that they had a warrant for her arrest.
After Ms. Fuerschbach was handcuffed and led outside, only then was it revealed that her co-workers orchestrated a prank to make her feel welcomed. However, she did not appreciate the gesture. She sought treatment for the emotional distress the prank had caused her, and sued Southwest Airlines, her supervisors, the officers, and the city of Albuquerque. For real — and not as a prank.
The district court granted summary judgment to all parties and granted immunity to the officers. The appellate court, meanwhile, ruled that workers’ compensation was the remedy for Ms. Fuerschbach’s claims against Southwest Airlines, but disagreed with the immunity grant.
The moral of the story? If you’re playing pranks, remember that some of your victims may not appreciate the humor behind them. Unfortunately for those SWA staff, Ms. Fuerschbach was not in a joking mood the day she passed probation and got fake-arrested.
Maybe next time, the airline company can find a better way to welcome regularized employees without possibly giving newbies a heart attack?
Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams will defend your right to claim compensation against any personal injury case in the Evergreen State. To learn more, contact us today.