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Prank Results in Liability, Employer April Fools

In Olivia v. Heath, (1995) the Appellate Court of California decided on a case of a prank gone wrong. Employees at a bank  lowered the chair an inch from its normal height of a fellow female employee. When the prank’s victim went to sit down, she fell into the chair abruptly injuring her back. The injured employee attempted to sue her fellow employees instead of pursuing a worker’s compensation claim, but since the employer encouraged pranks and practical jokes as a means of improving company morale, these other employees were working within their scope of employment. Let’s just say that the bank’s workers compensation premium just went up.

Pranks and Harassment

Practical jokes and April Fool’s pranks are not a place in a healthy company culture. They may even be a point of contention in evidencing harassment towards employees. Imagine a work environment where practical jokes are condoned. There will always be a victim here that may be perceive to create a hostile work environment in which that victim feels an unwanted harassing treatment. For your reference, here is a segment of some of the jury instructions commonly associated with a harassment lawsuit against an employer:

That [name of plaintiff] was subjected to unwanted harassing conduct because [he/she] [was/was believed to be/was associated with a person who was/was associated with a person who was believed to be] [protected status];

That the harassing conduct was so severe, widespread, or persistent that a reasonable [describe member of protected group] in [name of plaintiff]’s circumstances would have considered the work environment to be hostile or abusive;

That [name of plaintiff] considered the work environment to be hostile or abusive;

[Select applicable basis of defendant’s liability:]

[That a supervisor with actual [or reasonably perceived] authority over [name of plaintiff] engaged in the conduct;]

[That [name of defendant] [or [his/her/its] supervisors or agents] knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action;]

Nasir Pasha, Esq.

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Managing attorney and co-host of podcast Legally Sound | Smart Business

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