Hypothetical: Tuesday was Patty’s 40th birthday. While she was at lunch, some fellow employees hung black lace underwear on her door as a joke. But a client who stopped by to see her before she returned from lunch was offended. The joke could cost the company that client’s business. And Patty didn’t see any humor in it.
To help in deciding whether this incident constitutes serious misconduct, ask yourself:
Was the joke or horseplay purposely injurious or humiliating to a member of a special group? Is it a question, for example, of men harassing a female employee? Several men in Patty’s group celebrated their 40th birthdays without a similar incident, so what happened was not only tasteless but sexist as well. It might indeed be construed in court as harassment.
“Jokes” of this type—like those aimed at particular races or nationalities, or at older workers—are off limits. As a supervisor, you simply can’t tolerate this sort of prank. If you do, and an employee files a suit, you may find yourself named as co-defendant.