Did you hear the one about the employee who pranked his supervisor by claiming he had run over two people, fatally injuring one of them, with the company vehicle?

How about the one where the supervisor tricked his employees into taking a drug test, ordered them to pose for photos with the urine samples, and informed them that they had failed said test?

No Laughing Matter

From Hulu Pets and selfie sticks for dogs, to Pac-Man’s invasion of Google Maps and Katie Couric’s dramatic fall on the Late Late Show, April Fool’s Day 2015 was a huge success.

Generally, in the aftermath of April 1, most of us have a good laugh and return to our usual programming. But sometimes, some of us are not so lucky.

Arbitrator Russell C. Neas ruled in Lockheed Engineering Sciences, Co., 101 LA 1161, that the company, an “operations and maintenance contractor for the NASA Johnson Space Center,” had proper cause to discharge the grievant, “D”, who played an April Fool’s joke on his supervisor.

D, a Material Controller, was “assigned to drop off and pick up parts and supplies at a variety of local businesses in and around the city of Las Cruces on a daily basis.” In the early morning of April Fool’s Day, D telephoned his immediate supervisor, Garyth Charles, informing him that he “had hit two pedestrians, one of which appeared to be” fatally injured.

Charles asked D twice if he was “kidding” about the incident, and D assured him that he was not joking, that “it was a real bad situation” and the police had been called.

D called Charles back at 8:00 a.m., approximately 10 minutes after the initial call, to let him know that the entire incident was a prank. But it was too late.

Charles had already reported the matter to the Human Resources Manager, Department Manager, Program Manager, and Deputy Program Manager. Lockheed Headquarters in Houston and the NASA Johnson Space Center had been notified as well.

Upon arriving at the office at 10:00 a.m., D was informed “that as a result of his misconduct that morning he was being terminated immediately.” At the termination meeting, D “stated that he knew he had made a very serious mistake” and “although he did not like being fired he understood why this had been decided.”

Lockheed argued that “[t]his had been a very disturbing and disruptive type of incident that had caused a large number of people to be distracted from their primary duties that morning.” Further, the company noted that D had multiple opportunities to tell the truth.

The Union questioned “why this joke went to the extremes it did,” when D, who had a good performance record prior to this incident, only intended to play an April Fool’s Day prank, “an all-American custom” it asserted, on his immediate supervisor.

Finding D’s failure to anticipate “the confusion which would result from his prank” irrelevant, Arbitrator Neas stated that the company had no obligation to disclose its investigation and reporting practices to bargaining unit employees.

Neas concluded that, in the absence of negotiated standard penalties in the collective-bargaining agreement, “the determination of the penalty for misconduct in any given case is properly a function of the employer.”

Accordingly, Neas denied the grievance, finding that Lockheed did not abuse its discretion in disciplining D, and discharge was appropriate under the circumstances.

Joking Around in Arbitration

Surviving April Fool’s Day 2015 is one thing, but employees can also be disciplined for taking jokes too far on the other 364 days of the year.

Arbitrator Robert B. Hoffman ruled in Broward County, 110 LA 581, that the employer had just cause to terminate a corrections sergeant for violating “its policies concerning harassment, supervisory responsibilities to employees, and distraction from duty” when the grievant engaged “in a prank drug test involving two deputies.”

Hoffman noted that the grievant admitted to hatching the idea for the prank and orchestrating it, which involved the drafting of a fake memorandum on official letterhead, removing multiple employees from their regular duties, ordering two deputies to urinate into cups and pose for photographs with their specimens, informing the deputies that they had failed the drug tests, and instructing them to relinquish their badges.

The corrections sergeant also admitted that the tests were not legal and, though he claimed it constituted an “initiation,” the specific prank “had never been done before.”

Hoffman distinguished this prank from others that had been performed at the facility, such as “placing toothpaste on a doorknob” and “red ink on Coke cans,” stating that the prank was abusive and insulting, and caused the deputies to lose trust in their first level of supervision.

Lastly, Hoffman found that, because the grievant maintained that the employer was at fault for not recognizing “this prank as being harmless and part of the ‘culture,’” a lesser discipline would fail to be corrective.

Workers Just Want to Have Fun

A review of data provided by Bloomberg BNA's Arbitration Award Navigator shows that of the 41 arbitration awards involving horseplay at a private employer’s workplace, the employer prevailed in 46.3% of cases, the union prevailed in 17.1% of cases, and 36.6% of cases involved mixed prevailing parties.


Thus, while workers can have fun at work, perhaps play a prank at your peril.

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