Everyone loves a good April Fools’ prank—except, of course, when they don’t.
And that can sometimes be an expensive problem. For employers, it’s a time of year when the actions of employees can get companies in hot water. And when companies decide to join in the fun, often their efforts fall flat—or worse, hurt their brand and draw sizeable lawsuits.
“People often do foolish things in the workplace. It just kind of is concentrated on April Fools’ Day,” Mark Toth, chief legal officer and chief compliance officer at Manpower North America, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“People will lose their minds, do stupid things. And some people will get hurt, someone will sue,” Toth said. “And if employers are found to condone what happened and they don’t take action, then the whole company can be sued.”
Here are a few that went awry:
A free “toy Yoda”
A former Hooters waitress was given an undisclosed settlement after a 2001 April Fools’ promotion in which the winner of a beer sales contest at her Panama City, Fla., restaurant was promised a “free Toyota.”
When Jodee Berry was blindfolded and led out to the parking lot, she was awarded a free “toy Yoda”—the character from “Star Wars.” Her lawyer wouldn’t disclose the amount of the award, but told the Associated Press that it was enough for Berry to go to a local car dealership and “pick out whatever type of Toyota she wants.”
Variations of this prank have led to several legal problems for companies. In 2005, California station KBDS-FM was sued after a contest promised two Hummers to the winner, only to hand over two remote-control replicas of the vehicle.
On April Fools’ Day 2008, KYLD program director “Jazzy” Jim Archer and evening host Joe Breezy promised to give away a pair of breasts from “Dr. Sanders.” Instead of a real breast augmentation, the pair handed the winner chicken breasts from Kentucky Fried Chicken. The winner filed a complaint against the station, and Archer and Breezy lost their jobs.
Beware: Dihydrogen monoxide alert!
It seems radio disc jockeys are particularly susceptible to April Fools’ jokes that backfire. Last year, Florida country morning-show hosts Val St. John and Scott Fish were quickly taken off the air and threatened with potential felony criminal charges after warning listeners that “dihydrogen monoxide” was coming out of local faucets.
The nerds out there instantly knew that dihydrogen monoxide is H20—water.
But many listeners must have slept through science class: The local water utility was flooded with worried phone calls. “Lee County Utilities (LCU) is receiving reports that a local radio station is reporting that the water is not safe to use for any reason,” the utility wrote in a press release. “LCU is not having any issues with the water supply and the water is safe to use.”
Help! I’m stuck on the toilet!
Companies and customers can also be the victims. A prank on April Fools’ Day in 2012 led to an unpleasant shopping experience.
Police were called to a Maryland Wal-Mart after a 48-year-old victim “tried—and failed—to stand up and leave the superstore’s restroom” after the toilet seat was swathed with superglue, CNN reported. The man had to be taken to the hospital with the toilet seat still attached. Police reported the man suffered minor injuries to his buttocks and that the perpetrator, if found, would face second-degree assault charges.
Since 2003, there have been six similar cases of toilet-seat superglue at Wal-Mart and Home Depot stores.
“I’ve shot him…”
Last year a Tennessee woman called her sister and said, “I shot my husband. I’m cleaning up the mess. Let’s go bury him in Blackwater [River].”
After making the call, the woman found herself swarmed by local police, cuffed and questioned for murder. “The law was everywhere … [their] response was excellent,” she said. WKPT-TV reported that after her prank call, her sister called another family member, and somebody called the police.
Hudson told police she playing a joke on her sister and that her husband was not dead. Her husband eventually came to release. “April Fools’? She’s the fool,” a Kingsport police officer said.
Maybe next time she should stick with safer pranks, such as …
The office balloon explosion
The tin foil wrap
The Post-It note bomb
The cardboarded cubicle
But absolutely avoid pranks like this …
The fake lottery win
Happy April Fools’ Day!
Illustration by Brian Yee