Workplace pranksters beware!
On 31/05/2016 | 0 Comments

Pranks at work are funny sometimes, but what happens when the target of the prank does not find it funny, or worse, is injured by the prank?  Possible outcomes can be disciplinary action or potential dismissal for the prankster, and a law suit for the employer!

Here are some cases where practical jokers have landed themselves, and their employers into hot water. Although an employer will not be responsible for the actions of practical jokers where there is proof that the jokers were acting on a “frolic of their own”, for example by doing something totally unconnected with work.

If you have ever played a practical joke at work, or been the victim of one, read on and be advised.

There are two cases from the 1950s which show the Courts different approaches, depending on the circumstances;

In Smith v Crossley Brothers [1951],  two mechanics removed Mr Smiths trousers and inserted a rubber hose into his bottom. The rubber hose expelled compressed air, causing serious injury.

The Court of Appeal found that the employer was not liable for the resulting injuries as there was nothing that the employer could have done to anticipate or prevent such unpredictable (and stupid) actions.

On the other hand, in Hudson v Ridge Manufacturing Co Ltd .[1957], Mr Hudson suffered a broken wrist when a colleague wrestled him to the ground as a practical joke. The colleague was a known practical joker and had a reputation for playing pranks. The employer had been aware of this for years.

The employer was found to be liable for the injury because it was obvious that the joker posed a danger, but nothing had been done to prevent him from carrying out further pranks.

In the case of Graham v Commercial Bodyworks Ltd. [2015], the Court of Appeal said that an employer is not responsible for injuries caused by a prank gone wrong in the workplace after one employee set fire to another during “horseplay”.

Two workers in a bodywork repair shop were joking about when one set fire to the other with a cigarette lighter and flammable thinning agent, causing serious injury. The worker who was injured claimed that his employer was liable to compensate him for the injuries caused by the perpetrator’s actions.

The Court of Appeal said that “frolicsome but reckless conduct” cannot normally be said to have occurred in the course of employment. It would not be right to make the employer responsible for the injuries caused in this case.

In the Employment Tribunal case of Charlton v Orange PCS Ltd [2010], a sales manager at a call centre was accused of attempting to touch a colleague’s testicles and bottom. The sales manager denied that he had done this, although he did admit that he liked “pranks” and could not rule out that he had made a “rugby gesture”.

The manager was dismissed and claimed unfair dismissal. The employment tribunal rejected his claim, deciding that the employer had a genuine belief based on reasonable grounds that he was guilty of misconduct, and the employer had carried out a fair disciplinary procedure.

In Adamson v Mitchells & Butlers Retail Ltd. [2009], the Employment Tribunal said that an employee’s workplace prank can undermine the employer’s trust and confidence in him or her, and warrant summary dismissal. Here, a company dismissed the pub manager of one of its venues when he was recorded on CCTV being pushed around in a wheelie bin by a female colleague. He fell out of the bin and embraced the woman.

Although he aplogised and admitted that getting into the wheelie bin was “a ridiculously stupid act”, his dismissal was fair because the employer had lost all trust and confidence in him to manage the premises on its behalf.

In Otomewo v Carphone Warehouse Ltd.[2011], two members of staff took a manager’s phone without his permission and updated his Facebook status to saying: “Finally came out the closet. I am gay and proud.” The Manager, Mr Otomewo was straighr, and his colleagues knew that he was not gay.

Mr Otomewo sued Carphone Warehouse for sexual orientation discrimination and won. The Employment Tribunal said that the employer was responsible because the facebook entries on Mr Otomewo’s phone had been made by its employees in the course of their employment. The employees’ actions took place at work and during working hours, and involved dealings between staff and their manager.

The threat of carrying out a prank without actually doing it can cost you your job, and cost your employer money as happened in Bal v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2008]. Mr Bal is Sikh, and wears a turban. A radio-controlled toy helicopter was being flown around the office and being landed on various flat surfaces. Someone suggested that the toy helicopter be landed on Mr Bal’s turban. He sued in the Employment Tribunal for religion or belief discrimination. The Employment Tribunal awarded him compensation because an individual’s wearing of a turban is inherently connected with religion and, regardless of the intentions of the alleged harasser, the actions were discriminatory.

In AM v GF and another [2010], a joke went badly wrong when a female employee complained of an incident in which a male colleague “dropped his trousers, bent over with his hands on his knees, and was shaking his bottom”.

The Employment Tribunal said that, although there was evidence of a history of joking and that mooning was a “way of life” in this workplace and was used as a morale booster, the mooner’s actions were unwanted and of a sexual nature. She won her sexual harassment claim.

Moral of these stories? The workplace is not the place for pranks.

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