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Ask Jack: How Do I Manage A Practical Joker?

By Jack McCalmon, The McCalmon Group, Inc.

Dear Jack:

One of our managers is a practical joker. I told him that it could be an issue with the wrong person, but he basically shamed me as a "killjoy".

He said work was hard enough, that a little humor goes a long way, and that people like me hurt morale.


Signed: Killjoy

Dear Killjoy:

Workplace practical jokes have fun at another workplace participant's expense. Some people do not mind being made fun of at their own expense, but other people do.

Being the target of a joke crosses some people's boundaries. Worse, if they object to being a target, they are often ridiculed as not able to "take a joke" and then they may be ostracized by those who can or think they can. This creates isolation and a stigma.

That feeling is no different for them than how you felt when you were labeled a "killjoy".

Even if someone can take a joke…and even deliver a good one in return…practical jokes can still pose a problem.

For example, let's say that Jim is Jill's manager and a practical joker. He hides in Jill's office, dressed in a scary mask. When Jill turns on the lights, Jim jumps up from behind her desk. She is frightened and runs out screaming at the top of her lungs. When she realizes that it is a practical joke, she laughs with everyone else. However, six weeks later, Jill claims that Jim's practical joke is evidence of retaliation after she filed her workers' compensation claim.

Who is a jury going to believe? Jim will claim that Jill was chosen innocently and expressed no concerns afterward and even laughed. Jill will claim that Jim targeted her because she filed a workers' compensation claim and that she only laughed and "played along" so she would not suffer alienation by her coworkers and further retaliation by Jim.

The other issue with practical jokes is that some can become a safety concern. This occurred in 2006, when someone put a grocery cart on flagpole as a prank, and the employee who tried to take it down broke her neck when it fell on top of her. AP "Woman seriously injured after pranksters put cart on flagpole" (Oct. 25, 2006).

So, you should meet with the manager and explain that his practical jokes are not only an issue for you, but for the organization, and could be an issue for him as well. 

Jack McCalmon and Leslie Zieren are attorneys with more than 50 years combined experience assisting employers in lowering their risk, including answering questions, like the one above, through the McCalmon Group's Best Practices Help Line. The Best Practice Help Line is a service of The McCalmon Group, Inc. Your organization may have access to The Best Practice Help Line or a similar service from another provider at no cost to you or at a discount. For questions about The Best Practice Help Line or what similar services are available to you via this Platform, call 888.712.7667.

If you have a question that you would like Jack McCalmon or Leslie Zieren to consider for this column, please submit it to Please note that The McCalmon Group cannot guarantee that your question will be answered. Answers are based on generally accepted risk management best practices. They are not, and should not be considered, legal advice. If you need an answer immediately or desire legal advice, please call your local legal counsel.

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