Some employees will never get along. Managing them can be hard, especially if one chooses to make life difficult for the other with practical jokes and rude behavior.
But unless the jokes and behavior somehow relates to a protected characteristic, it isn’t grounds for a lawsuit.
Recent case: Sheena, a black female, filed an EEOC complaint alleging that a co-worker was harassing her. By her account, he certainly was, leaving chicken bones on her bookcase, placing a picture of the Virgin Mary on her desk, putting two pennies in her purse (something she thought meant he was accusing her of practicing voodoo) and breaking the wings off her ceramic angels that she kept in her office.
The EEOC dismissed the complaint, and Sheena filed a federal discrimination lawsuit.
But she could not tie any of the pranks to a protected characteristic like her sex or race.
The court said it was not a personnel office and refused to become involved. It dismissed the case. (DeLaurencio v. Brooklyn Children’s Center, No. 13-CV-4912, ED NY, 2015)
Final note: Of course, you can choose to punish rude and disruptive behavior that doesn’t contribute to maintaining a professional work environment. Remember, allowing such behavior may spur others to act similarly.
It’s then only a matter of time before the perpetrator escalates the situation and someone ends up targeted because of their race, national origin, sex or other protected characteristic. Don’t take that chance.
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