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Avoid Jail or Lawsuits for April Fools' Work Pranks

April Fools' Day is nearly upon us. You might be rubbing your hands together, scheming a grand workplace caper.

But as a columnist reminds us in her piece for ABC News, sometimes an office April Fools' prank can land you a pink slip (or worse) faster than you can say "Ferris Bueller."

Here are five ways to help make sure your April Fools' prank doesn't fall legally flat:

  1. Don't single anyone out. Make sure you're laughing with people, not at people. It's best to punk multiple people at the same time. Picking on one person in particular could lead to you becoming the punchline in a harassment or discrimination lawsuit. Definitely avoid provocative pictures and anything racial or religious.
  2. Make sure you're not cutting into productivity. This may sound like a Dolly Parton "9 to 5" kind of buzzkill, but you're in the office to work. Make sure your prank isn't too disruptive. Companies are stretched pretty thin right now, so they might be less willing to giggle at time-consuming or distracting pranks.
  3. Don't unwittingly sabotage coworkers. A prank that frustrates or inconveniences coworkers might not pan out so well. For example, it might not be such a great idea to rig a printer or copy machine when colleagues might be under a tight deadline.
  4. Pick a prank that is of little consequence. Steer clear of jokes with long-lasting effects. Don't do anything permanent to anyone's property, or set up a prank that could potentially injure someone. An over-the-top prank might tickle colleagues pink, but tickle you with a pink slip and a lawsuit.
  5. Don't reprimand, fire, or lay-off anyone (pretend or for real). Firing or laying-off someone on April 1 will not only make for an awkward exit interview, it will cause confusion. As one manager told ABC News, "[The employee] was convinced it was a joke even after I took his keys and employee ID. As he left my office he kept stopping, looking back, waiting for me to say 'April Fools!' But I never did." Considering how rough the economy is right now, pulling a fake reprimand, firing, or lay-off prank is a bad idea, too.

Of course, a good April Fools' joke can build camaraderie in the office. Just remember to keep it clean, fun, and legal. The last thing you would want is for the joke to be on you.

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