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It’s all hilarious … until someone sues

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

These days, who couldn’t use a little humor amid all the stress?

You know the gags: Post-it notes labeling everything in Greg’s cubicle. Duct-taping Stacey’s office door. Photoshopping Dave’s picture on a photo of a Sumo wrestler.

Of course, as a manager, you must also consider that some individuals may have lost (or never had) a sense of humor and would not appreciate a joke made at their expense.

Humor in the workplace has often resulted in decidedly not-so-funny claims of harassment and defamation, or claims of workers’ compensation when injury resulted.

Consider the following case: A relatively new employee was shocked when a co-worker superimposed his picture on a suggestive photo. He was even more shocked when it happened again. He complained to management, and the individuals involved were subsequently reprimanded.

That didn’t stop one of his co-workers, though. She passed around at a sales meeting a photo of the employee’s face superimposed over that of former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey. The related newspaper article detailed McGreevey’s homosexual activities.

Claiming that his reputation was damaged by the association with the disgraced governor, the employee sued for defamation. A jury awarded him $5,000. (Viglione v. Express Times, et al., Northampton Cty)

Advice: Verbal reprimands that don’t stop the behavior need to be backed up with other disciplinary measures. You might also want to give employees a heads up that pranks could result in personal liability. Knowing that they could be sued might just be the motivation jokesters need to cease and desist from their inappropriate ways.

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