If a pink slip lands on your desk today, take a deep breath before firing off that e-mail telling the boss exactly what you think of his core competencies.
It's April Fools' Day, and the sender might not be the big cheese but the big doofus in the next cubicle.
Practical jokes are alive and well in the workplace on April 1, according to a new survey. Thirty-two percent of U.S. workers surveyed by an Internet job site said they have either played a prank on a co-worker or been the victim of one.
But before you carry out a practical joke in the office or on the shop floor, think about what you are about to do, experts advise. Pranks often backfire. And lots of companies take a dim view of the antics.
"What's funny to one person is sometimes not funny to another person," said Jack Hollister, president of the 700-member Employers' Association of Toledo.
The line between humor and perceived harassment is a fine one, Mr. Hollister said.
He is not against fun in the workplace, however.
Over the years through various jobs, he's been on the receiving end of April Fools' Day mischief.
He's gotten calls from irate customers and key clients canceling important orders, only to hear co-workers tittering in the background.
The most common April Fools' pranks include faking resignations and gluing tape dispensers and staplers to desks, said Internet site CareerBuilder.com.
But the 6,900 workers surveyed for the firm Feb. 11 to March 13 told about company security personnel being called to investigate a possible death in the men's restroom after a jokester left a pair of pants and shoes inside the lone stall for hours.
At another company, each female employee met individually with the president to confide she was pregnant and asking that he not disclose the news. By noon, the boss believed that all of the women in the office were expecting but he was unable to tell anyone because of the confidentiality promise.
At other worksites, pranksters replaced pop with beer in vending machines, issued fictitious public-address announcements ordering a co-worker to report to the CEO's office, and shrink-wrapped all items in a colleague's office.
But the practical jokes observed over the past 27 years by Toledo employment lawyer Kevin Greenfield are usually of a different variety.
"They're often drawings or caricatures that make fun of other people, their behavior, or work style," he said. "You look at them in hindsight and think, 'Why did you do that?' These things are very hurtful."
Mr. Greenfield typically enters the picture after the prankster has been disciplined or discharged or when the victim decides to sue the employer.
He advises workers to strictly avoid jokes that touch on gender, religion, disabilities, and ethnic origin. No matter how funny they are perceived, such jokes and pranks can become the basis of discrimination complaints.
Seven out of 10 corporate marketing executives questioned said April Fools' pranks are not appropriate in the workplace, according to a survey for the Creative Group, a staffing service in Menlo Park, Calif. Advertising executives polled were more tolerant. Still, a full 45 percent said the annual pranks should be avoided.
Andrew Martin, a Toledo magician whose sense of fun prompted him to appear on the ABC realty TV series Wife Swap in January, is more tolerant.
Over the years, he has participated in plenty of workplace practical jokes, though none was tied to April Fools' Day.
A few years ago, he was hired by a group of railroad workers to crash a retirement party held on company time for a co-worker. The magician portrayed a supervisor angry to find the employees partying instead of working.
Rather than becoming frightened, the soon-to-be retiree was angry. "The guy started going off at me," Mr. Martin recalled. "The guys that hired me calmed him down."
Overall, Mr. Martin advises workers to avoid playing pranks on colleagues they don't know well. "And if it requires that you actually hurt somebody, that's wrong."
Otherwise, he has no objections to workplace pranks - April Fools' Day or any day.
"Humor makes life interesting," he said. "You do the same thing over and over again Then somebody pulls a prank and everybody gets a good laugh. It's a great stress reliever."
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