Oct 302014
bear in cubicle

Most of us like a good prank now and then. But a bear?! It’s all fun and games until someone gets mauled.

Where does the fun end and harassment begin?

Everyone likes to have fun in the workplace, and for many people, carrying on a bit and playing practical jokes on one another are just part of relieving tedium and blowing off stress from time to time. The trouble is that it can quickly get out of hand, and people can get hurt, or be humiliated.

When It’s Not Fun Any More

Consider the case of an employee who was taped to her office chair, and then put on an elevator. The co-workers who perpetrated the prank thought it was hilarious. The woman sued not only her fellow employees, but on-site contractors who stood by and did nothing. She won her case.

Then, of course, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. That’s pretty much what happened to Sally Crowder, who worked for the Honolulu Police Department’s radio communications division. She suffered a detached retina in a so-called game that involved employees throwing a ball at other employees’ backs. The goal, apparently, was to throw the ball hard enough to hurt and make the victim cry out. One co-worker complained to a supervisor, who claimed that the game was all in good fun. Crowder wasn’t having much fun when she was struck in the eye and needed surgery in order to have the retina reattached. Even after she was injured, the supervisor refused to stop the game. Crowder filed a workers’ compensation claim, but it was rejected. She is still seeking compensation.

office pranks can hurt

Why Does Horseplay Continue?

People like to laugh. They like to tell stories about the fun they had at work. Most of the time, the stories they tell don’t have anything to do with the jokes that went wrong – the ones that caused hurt feelings, embarrassment, minor injuries, or worse. It’s easy to say that there was no harm intended, but the sad fact is that harm very often results.

It’s also likely that at times, harm is intended. The line between horseplay and actual bullying is a fine one – in fact, some might argue that there is no line. Often, pranks are directed at people who don’t really fit in, and they’re devised by a ringleader who’s deciding what everyone is supposed to think is funny.

Distraction and Danger

Horseplay is at best distracting. When people are taping other people to chairs and throwing balls around, obviously they’re not focusing on their jobs. They’re also creating situations where injuries could occur. It’s easy enough afterward to say that no harm was intended, but that doesn’t change the fact that harm has been done. “Sorry” doesn’t re-attach a retina.

Workplace Policies on Horseplay

Many workplaces are developing policies that take a very hard line on horseplay. Not only is the danger obvious, there’s a very real danger of being held liable if an injury or humiliation should occur. Companies are taking steps to protect their workers, and also the company as a whole.

Does your workplace have policies against horseplay? Have you ever been involved in incidents of horseplay? Has anything ever gone wrong?

How about some harder questions –
Would you report horseplay in your workplace, or speak out if you saw it happening? Or would you stand by and do nothing out of a desire to fit in or look cool? Would you be willing to take the chance of being named in a lawsuit?


A worker’s office chair should not be considered an object of torture, or an attack zone. Horseplay has no place in the workplace.