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Have you heard of the notorious sandwich thief?

If you haven’t, we’re referring to a viral thread of photos in which two employees engage in a humorous note war. One employee, known as Turkey and Swiss on Rye, demands the other, Sandwich Thief, give him his sandwich back.

Sandwich Thief refuses and even puts the poor sandwich up for ransom. However, one could say he bit off more than he could chew: HR gets involved, and we’re betting she wasn’t too happy with the sandwich burglar a.k.a. Francis.

Though it is funny, this is a good example of how office jokes can have consequences. And, naturally, this brings us to April Fools’ Day.

April Fools’ Day is a day of fun. But there can be a fine line between fun and harmful, especially in the office.

Of course, laughing and getting along can be conducive to team building, eliminating stress, and boosting employee morale, but it’s important to make sure employees don’t cross the line. If done wrong, jokes and pranks at the office can lead to hurt feelings, injuries, and even *gasp* lawsuits.

To help you avoid these, we’ve put together a guideline of sorts for April Fools’ Day office pranks. And no, we’re not kidding. These are genuine tips.

The DO’s & DON’T’s of April Fools’ Day Office Pranks:

DON’T ignore your company’s culture.

This is important to consider. If you work for a serious company where nobody jokes with one another ever, April Fools’ Day pranking probably isn’t the best idea.

DON’T do physical jokes.

It’s best to stay away from jokes that have the potential to harm a person. Even something small like putting superglue on a co-worker’s writing utensil could result in bodily harm. Don’t use weapons of any kind, even fake ones.

DON’T be inappropriate.

There is a time and place for pranks. A conference call with a client, for instance, is not the time nor place. Don’t use potty humor, sexual innuendos, or stink bombs. Don’t do a prank that will interrupt an employee’s ability to do his/her job. Don’t permanently damage property.

DON’T joke at your company’s expense.

For some reason, companies like to create fake company news or press releases on April Fools’ Day. Don’t do this. You never know what clients or potential customers will believe the news, leading you to intense damage control and, possibly, legal consequences.

DON’T prank clients.

Stick to fellow employees, if your culture allows.
This brings us to our next “don’t”…

DON’T confuse a prank with harassment.

It should go without saying that a prank should not single out any person or trait. Don’t use jokes or pranks that in any way mock an employee’s race, gender, etc. or are sexual in nature. (April Fools’ Day is not PTO from your employee handbook rules!)

Remember: If you notice an employee’s prank does cross the line, it’s best to take immediate action. Employers can be held liable for an employee’s harmful actions if it is shown that nothing was done to reprimand the action.

DO consider your audience. April Fool's Day Office Pranks

This is important. You want to make sure the “target” of your joke will “get it.” Choose a co-worker you know well and you know will laugh.

DO think before you act.

Please just take some time to consider all possible outcomes before engaging in a prank or joke. Doing so can seriously minimize the risk of hurting someone or legal trouble for you. Just remember: having fun doesn’t mean abandoning all common sense. Don’t be a fool.

DO have fun.

We hope having more “don’ts” than “dos” doesn’t make us seem like we’re against fun. We’re not. We just want to ensure you have a fun, safe, and lawsuit-free April Fools’ Day.

For your inspiration, we have provided a few Integrity HR-approved pranks:

The Project Fake-Out

Take a huge stack of papers into a coworker’s office and say, “Hey! I really need you to help me with this project…” Describe a crazy time-consuming project, and let them freak out a bit before saying “April Fools!”

The Life-size Prank

Last fall around Halloween, one of our employees brought in a life-size skeleton and left it in various people’s chairs. It was pretty funny watching people walk to their desk or office in the morning and find the skeleton in their seat. Any life-size decorative figure could work here. We’ve seen Justin Bieber cardboard cutouts and more used for a little April Fools’ Day surprise.

The Voice

Write up an “official” notice letting your co-workers know that a certain piece of office technology now takes voice commands. Suggest a few commands, and stick the notice to the equipment of your choice. Then, enjoy watching all day as your co-workers try talking to the equipment.

We’d like to hear from you. What are your thoughts on April Fools’ Day office pranks? Have you seen any –funny or not-so funny– at your workplace?

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about the author: Integrity HR

Integrity HR's human resources blog is filled with expert advice (and sassy commentary) on those everyday employment issues that give business owners and managers HR headaches. From tips on how to retain key employees to how to write your dress code policy, our blog has all the HR resources you need. Problems we solve: HR Outsourcing, HR Consulting Projects, Professional Recruiting Services, HR Audit & Operational Review, Employee Training Programs, Compensation Consulting, Leadership Development & Coaching, Succession Planning.