update: I pulled a prank on a coworker — and it ended badly

Remember the letter-writer who pulled a prank on a coworker, and the coworker did not appreciate the joke? Here’s the update.

Not a whole lot has happened since. The apology was made at the time of the incident (when he threatened me) but we didn’t talk much after that, only professionally when we did. By providence, I was seconded to a special project so regarding management concerns, I guess that’s a non-issue! (It was also never brought up and I didn’t do anything else regarding the situation.)

As for him, all I know is that he continues to “joke” with others in the same manner he did with me and sending the same signals to others that I initially misinterpreted. Beyond that, I don’t have much interaction with him anymore. Things seemed to have blown over and I don’t joke with anyone anymore, really. I just keep everything as professional as I can and separate work from my personal life. At the end of the day, work is work and I’m not at work to make friends (I do that outside of work).

P.S. This letter-writer took a lot of criticism in the comment section the first time around but was still nice enough to write back in with an update, so please be kind.

{ 122 comments… read them below }

  1. Kat A.*

    I’m glad you’ve stopped trying to joke around at work because that prank wasn’t funny. Not to give you a hard time, but if that’s your idea of an acceptable workplace prank or of humor, then it’s not something you should be doing.

    1. Sally*

      Actually, I think it was pretty damn funny. If you can’t take it don’t dish it out. He sounds like a d-bag to me.

  2. Ask a Manager* Post author

    The OP got slammed in the comments in the original post, so I’m going to ask that we avoid repeating that here. He was nice enough to write back in with an update and I really appreciate that.

        1. Shell*

          Hey Alison, your link within the post goes to the update itself (the page we’re on) rather than the original post.

          FYI. :)

  3. GigglyPuff*

    Okay, that’s great that you have changed your outlook and are separating your work and personal life, but you never apologized again? Apologizing in the heat of the moment, everyone does that (usually in my opinion) whether they usually mean it or not, but going back and apologizing again, sincerely, that’s worth a lot more, and I feel like you should have definitely done that. That seems like a wasted opportunity to fix a workplace relationship, instead of just sitting back and letting it blow over.

    1. ohword*

      If I played what I thought to be an innocent prank on a coworker and they reacted by yanking me by the arm and threatening me… I’d probably avoid them forever, too.

      1. Sadsack*

        The coworker deserved a heartfelt apology, regardless of how he reacted to the joke in the heat of the moment. A true apology probably would have meant a lot and really put the OP in a better light to the coworker and others who might hear about it afterward. The “prank” was really stupid.

        1. ohword*

          We know the prank was stupid. I’m just trying to say I see where the OP is coming from re: avoiding the prankee.

        2. Mister Pickle*

          It’s too late now, but I agree: a second, heartfelt apology would have been a good thing.

            1. never too late*

              Just to chime in here, I don’t think it’s ever really too late to apologize for something that obviously provoked a severe reaction. “Hey, got a minute? Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about that one time I pranked you a while back, and I realized I never really apologized to you for that. So I wanted to say that I’m sorry, it was wrong of me. I don’t even know if it’s something you still think about, but it’s weighed heavily on my mind and I felt like I ought to at least apologize belatedly rather than saying nothing at all.”

      2. Steve G*

        +1!!! If everyone is owed apologies, I think the OP also needs one for being embarrassed in front of clients!

      3. INTP*

        That’s completely unacceptable in most cases, but being physically trapped can be a huge trigger to some people. You don’t know what people have been through and confining them can set off a major fight/flight response so that a reaction like that is basically them exercising as much restraint as they have. So, I do think that a genuine apology would have been an appropriate gesture in this case (versus if someone grabbed and threatened you after you changed their screensaver or left a tuna can in their trash or something). Not trying to slam the OP – I think it seems that he/she just genuinely doesn’t get what was potentially traumatizing about this particular prank.

    2. Sadsack*

      Agreed, I thought the same. The main point of AAM’s advice was be professional and apologize sincerely. Ignoring the issue and hoping it just goes away is not mature or professional.

    3. some1*

      Apologizing later after everyone had cooled down would probably have been a good idea, but at this point I think the LW risks calling attention to the incident again — and it sounds like the two are at least getting along well enough to communicate as needed.

    4. Steve G*

      I don’t agree, sometimes apologizing twice like this creates more drama than it solves. Also, usually the offended person gets it, that you are sorry, they don’t need to see you go through another apology again. And sometimes it is uncomfortable for the one being apologized too, and they don’t want to have to go through it again…and there is no rule that a 2nd after-the-fact apology is going to be any more sincere than a 1st one.

    5. AnonyMouse*

      I just want to say that while I do agree the original prank was a mistake and deserved more than one apology, I personally would not offer a second, later-on apology to someone who had threatened me with violence. To me, that sends a bad signal to that person that if they don’t like my actions, they can behave however badly they want in reaction (the OP originally said the coworker responded with colourful threats), and I’ll just keep apologising. I think one initial apology was perfect, but I wouldn’t go back and offer another to someone when the first went so badly.

      1. Green*

        Lawyer here. Threatening physical violence in the workplace is inappropriate on a whole different scale than pranking. Both are obviously highly inappropriate. Pranking is a form of bullying, and, as others noted, the threat of physical violence probably would not have materialized without the initial prank. But a physically aggressive act accompanied by a threat isn’t a “warning” kind of situation.

        I would certainly want an employee at my company to report any threats of physical violence immediately, and they may even be required to do so under a violence in the workplace policy. Anyone who would threaten violence to a coworker is a huge liability, and the OP should not have interacted with him further.

    6. M-C*

      I totally agree that one apology in the heat of the moment is pathetically inadequate. The person is enraged and unable to think clearly, you’re obviously put on the spot so may not be your most sincere or well thought out. Going back the next day or at least within the week and sincerely talking about how sorry you are that you did that (AAM is right – NOT saying you’re sorry they were upset) would go a long way toward really smoothing things over. I don’t entirely agree that it’s too late, if the occasion arose to slip in something about “the time I did that utterly stupid and inappropriate thing, so sorry” into the conversation might demonstrate a continued contrite state to good effect. But yes, it’s too late to go talk about it now, although I’d attempt it if you were to be assigned to work closely together on a future project..

    1. AW*

      Is that the supercut of people saying that on reality TV shows? I used to follow the blog of the guy that put that together.

  4. BRR*

    I think it’s wonderful you learned from the situation. It’s a shame your coworker didn’t also take some time for reflection after the incident as well.

  5. Oryx*

    To be fair, I joke with co-workers frequently. But I also *loathe* practical jokes and pranks, especially when done to me. Joking verbally is one thing. Joking physically — which many practical jokes are — is very different. Just because he’s joking around with other co-workers doesn’t mean he’s sending any kind of “signals” regarding his appreciation of pranks

    1. Ethyl*

      I agree, and I appreciate the distinction. In the end, I feel like “pranks” have such a huge array of ways they can go wrong in a professional setting, it’s probably best to keep them totally off the table in almost all work environments. I mean, what’s the best-case scenario? Your coworker feels embarrassed? Why does anyone want to do that to someone else, especially someone you have to work with at your job?

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        There are better best-case scenarios, though. In many work environments, pranks like filling a co-worker’s office or cube with balloons is hilarious even to the “victim”, especially if all of the co-workers who participated help with the cleanup.

        Most “pranks” leave a bad taste in my mouth, too, but I had a co-worker who was both a practical joker and a really nice, sweet guy, so he would never have done anything too mean. Because I knew he liked practical jokes, I replaced his nameplate with one that said “Cosmic Avenger (annex)” because we had adjacent cubes and used to joke about taking over each others’ cubes to expand our empires. He LOVED it…even though it took him a day or two to notice! :D

    2. Nerd Girl*

      And I feel like this comes off as a mean spirited prank – whether intended that way or not. This prank isn’t hiding someone’s stapler…a person was locked out on a balcony. I wouldn’t have found this funny. Glad the OP learned a lesson from this.

      1. INTP*

        Agreed. I would have been extremely distressed by this. Being physically confined is a huge trigger for some people, whether due to traumatic experiences, claustrophobia, etc. That could be the reason for the person’s intense reaction and shouldn’t be held against them, frankly.

  6. fdgery*

    The link in the post just links back to this page. (The right link is in the “you may also like” section, though.)

  7. Dani X*

    In the original post the OP was thinking of going to his manager, I take it from this update he decided not to do that. I agree with a previous poster – verbal joking is not an indicator that physical joking would go over well. They are so different that you can’t assume that is someone is okay with one they will be okay with the other.

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      This is a great point. I would have been annoyed at being locked on a balcony but I HATE to be verbally joked with or teased, especially if it’s sarcastic or negative.

      Thanks for the update, OP!

  8. LCL*

    OP, thank for the update. Maybe one day Allison could have the topic “Something I did at work that I thought was a good idea, but went very bad.” I know I could write a paragraph or two…

  9. Jeanne*

    Well, we’ve all done something we regret. Thanks for the update. I think that the two of you avoiding each other is best unless there’s a specific work thing to get done.

    1. John*

      Excellent point. And if the rest of us were judged based on some of our most bone-headed moments, well…

  10. AW*

    The original letter is from April. I doubt the co-worker wants to be reminded of the prank any more than they want to be reminded of their own reaction to it. They are able to communicate professionally and if it’s hurt the OP’s reputation at all then the best thing they can do is what they’re already doing: keeping things professional at work.

    If the co-worker brings it up they can apologize then. If HR or management brings it up they can explain that they apologized and are more than willing to do something more formal to address it if necessary. But I don’t see any benefit to bringing it up again now that things are pretty much normal.

  11. Ted Mosby*

    Oh OP… I really don’t think what you did was all that bad. There is no worse feeling than doing something playfully and then the horror of realizing it was not taken well. I can totally see a work environment (nerf gun fight place anyone) where this would have seemed like a really reasonable joke. Don’t let people make you feel even worse! It sounds like everything wound up fine.

  12. Mister Pickle*

    This happened shortly before I started to read AAM. Hmm … 670 comments? I read the update, the original letter, and rapidly skimmed some of the comments. A few things I’m noticing:

    – OP technically followed AAM’s advice before she gave it: “The apology was made at the time of the incident (when he threatened me)”.

    – It seems like OP’s POV is very much focused on how he was wronged by being threatened by the pranked. Which is … odd to me, considering that this entire incident started with the OP’s prank.

    – I get the sense that OP feels like the prankee hasn’t “learned their lesson”, ref

    As for him, all I know is that he continues to “joke” with others in the same manner he did with me and sending the same signals to others that I initially misinterpreted.

    Which also strikes me as odd.

    – Am I the only person who thinks that OP dodged a bullet here, not from the prankee, but in that (apparently) the prankee didn’t take the matter to management?

    – Was the nature of the actual threat ever disclosed? Because I visualize it as being something along the lines of “if you ever do that again, I will kick your ass”. And maybe it’s because I live in Texas, but given the overall circumstances, I have a difficult time accepting that as a “real” threat. If the prankee threatened to murder OP’s family, or cut out his heart, or showed him his gun – that’s different.

    – In short: I sense that OP overstated the entire “threat” aspect to deflect attention from his poor judgement in pulling the prank.

    (Alison, I’m totally okay with you deleting this if you think it is out of bounds. I’m not trying to “pile on” the OP – but having just now read the original letter and now this response – I find the response more than a bit disappointing).

    1. Kat A.*

      Mister Pickle has articulated just what I was thinking. The OP keeps bringing up this supposed threat and not taking full responsibility for initiating the incident. And then OP makes it sound like the coworker is sending mixed messages.

      Verbally joking with people you get along with is very different from some other person playing a physical prank that could’ve affected the coworker’s ability to do his job that day.

      1. Clerica*

        The OP keeps bringing up this supposed threat and not taking full responsibility for initiating the incident.

        But, let’s imagine the situation were reversed. There have been OPs who were wronged in some way but then reacted badly or retaliated, or heck, just went to the wrong person up the chain and caused drama, and the usual consensus is that they lost any right to be upset. “Moral high ground” is the phrasing I remember, and I was always left with the impression that if you don’t respond perfectly within seconds, you have to just suck it up and move on. So, picture the balcony person writing in and saying that he was locked out on a balcony for a few minutes and grabbed the person’s arm and told him he’d hurt him, and now wants to demand an apology from the pranker. I really think the response would be that it’s never okay to grab someone or threaten them, and that the pranker should just move on. And depending on how the first few comments went, I could see the majority piling on the balcony person just as quickly as the pranker.

        There’s an awful lot of “I wish the OP would just learn his/her lesson and admit that the random strangers on the internet were right” going around lately. Sometimes a person on the inside can tell when a certain course of action wouldn’t work better than anyone who isn’t there.

        1. Observer*

          There probably would be a lot of piling on- because neither behaved the way they should. And I would guess that the prnakee realized that, which is why he didn’t demand an apology or apparently go up the chain.

          What a lot of us are trying to say is NOT that the prankee behaved as he should. He didn’t. Full Stop.

          What we ARE saying is this: As long as he is now behaving in a reasonable fashion towards you, his over reaction is not your issue. Your behavior is.

    2. JMegan*

      This is exactly what I was thinking. It doesn’t sound like the OP has taken responsibility for his (her?) actions, and this letter still has a bit of a tone of blaming the coworker…”he continues to joke…sending signals…I don’t joke any more…” as if the coworker is a big poopypants who has ruined all the OP’s fun at work.

      I do think the best strategy at this point is to leave it alone and never mention it again, but I do question whether the OP really gets why the coworker was so upset.

      1. snuck*

        I disagree – the prankster has remained professional, has refocussed his attention at work and no longer pranks or jokes about (and for him to do this in the first place it sounds like a fair bit of prank behaviour was tolerated) and is sounding like someone who at work to work well … he has become a diligent employee by the sounds of it.

        I’d say that was a good outcome all around.

        Often you hear about “but he did X to Y and now they promoted him WTF?” but in situations like this – if the OP has genuinely improved their entire outlook at work and is now serious about why they are there and acting in a professional manner then I’d say that they hadn’t just reflected on what happened, they’d changed their behaviour for the better. Going back to the prankee and following it up further in any way is unprofessional drama mongering, management having to step in and deal with every little thing suggests that staff don’t have the people skills to sort things out (Assuming management heard about this they left it alone and it’s not done any harm, good has come from this – the OP is a better employee as a result, I say they handled it properly). It never fails to astound me what asinine little things become massive snowballing avalanches because people don’t deal with the small stuff themselves (and small is best measured in the context of the culture for this stuff). The OP sounds like he’s earning some solid runs on the board now… keeps it up he might get promoted… not because he locked a guy on the balcony, but because he learnt from the mistake of that and hasn’t actually pulled similar rubbish again, and more to the point showed he valued his employment above fun, put his employment in the priority space it should be and works at work.

        1. Emily*

          Completely agree, snuck. I think people wanted to see OP self-flagellate and stew in remorse or self-recrimination, but I think it’s enough that he learned from the experience and improved himself as an employee and a coworker.

    3. Adonday Veeah*

      “And maybe it’s because I live in Texas… I have a difficult time accepting that as a “real” threat.”

      Man. You Texans are tough!

    4. Anna*

      As many many comments said in the original post, threatening is never okay. Ever. However, the way I read the update is that things have moved on, neither person involved is the worse for wear, and it hasn’t seriously disrupted the work environment.

      No matter what, if someone threatened me at work, my focus would no longer be on what lead up to that, but rather if I should be seriously afraid. “He made me do it” is not a good enough defense in my opinion. But again everyone has moved on, so it doesn’t help to analyze the letter writer’s update and try to (again) lay blame for the reaction of the prankee.

    5. Zillah*

      So I sympathize with finding a letter that was posted before you started reading AAM and wanting to respond to it – I’ve been in that position, too. However, I think that after a certain point, doing so is essentially beating a dead horse. About half of this response is really responding to the original letter more than the response, and I’m really not sure what purpose that serves. The letter has been pretty thoroughly responded to.

      1. Mister Pickle*

        For the record: I made a sincere effort to focus more on the update than on the original letter. Perhaps I was less than successful. Sorry.

    6. Observer*

      I’m going to disagree with the threatening part. It may have not been serious, but we have no reason to make an assumption either way. So I can understand that he might have been genuinely scared.

      But, as for the rest, I have to agree. It’s a disappointing response. I would NOT, at this point, bring it up again, but there really should have been an apology in a calm moment shortly after the event – after all an apology in the face of a threat doesn’t come off as all that sincere.

      The most important thing I hope the OP takes away is that there are a number of lessons here, some of which he seems to have missed. It’s good that you realized that you don’t have to be “buddies” (especially of the frat sort) with the people at work. It’s enough to have a polite and professional relationship. So that is a lesson learned, and that’s good.

      There are a couple of lessons that the OP doesn’t seem to have taken, and which he really needs to. And, these actually do translate into the rest of life as well. The first thing to realize is that kidding around and laughing even at slapstick humor in no way indicates being ok with pranks in general, and certainly not with any and all types of pranks. So you NEVER pull a prank one someone unless and until you are certain that he is ok with pranks in general, and THIS TYPE of prank in particular.

      The other really important thing is to own and take responsibility for your mistakes. You made a real misjudgment here. It happens. But, you don’t seem to realize that. It sounds like you think that it was his fault that you reached an unwarranted conclusion and acted on it in a way that really wasn’t especially appropriate in most workplaces. I know someone mentioned the nerf battles scenario, but it’s quite obvious that that’s not what this place is like. So, it was definitely a bit out of bounds anyway, rather than something anyone should have expected. So, it’s on you, not him. Being able to recognize when you are the primary one at fault (I’m talking about the prank, not the threat – that was an inappropriate response) is a useful skill.

      1. Melissa*

        I don’t understand where people are getting this from. OP apologized; OP interacts professionally with his coworker; OP says he has separated his personal from professional and does not pull these kinds of pranks anymore. Why are people assuming that he didn’t “learn anything” or that he’s trying to shift the blame to someone else? Let’s be happy that OP managed to move on in his job and got picked for a special project! yay!

        1. Observer*

          I am happy that the OP is doing ok – and that he clearly did modify his behavior in at least one respect appropriately. That’s good for him and the people around him. But, his comment about the victim continuing his confusing behavior sounds like he is saying that the coworkers continues to, to some extent, anyway invite such pranks.

          Since he has decided to skip kidding with his work mates, it’s not too likely that he’s going to pull another prank that blows up, at work at least. But, it wouldn’t be a bad thing for him to realize that this is a potential issue outside of the office as well.

          The issue that he is to some extent blaming the coworker is more relevant to a work related blog, and also far broader, because that’s something that crops up in a wide variety of situations. Now, of course there are situations where someone is given genuinely confusing or misleading signals, or where a key piece of information that the person couldn’t have known about is not revealed. But, this was not one of them, and the ability to tell the difference is healthy and useful.

    7. KMS1025*

      Completely agree on all points made by Mister Pickle…and is it just me or does this sentence sound weird :-)

  13. SRMJ*

    glad for an update on this, I remember the pile-on and thought it was egregious. especially when people were like ‘the OP deserves whatever response the prankee has!! including violence/threats of violence!!!’ like, for real guys? no. violence is rarely a justified response. to anything.

    good luck OP!

    1. themmases*

      The OP’s prank wasn’t funny, but it seems like they escalated joking to pranking and then the coworker escalated pranking to physically touching and threatening someone! That behavior just isn’t OK unless it’s needed to physically defend yourself.

      1. Canadamber*

        Yes yes yes! People are like “oh, well, it depends on the nature of the threat. Maybe it wasn’t that bad and the prankee is actually not at fault!” (Or pretty much this, anyway.) Just… no. Like, seriously, what the heck, guys? If the OP felt threatened, they probably felt that they had a reason to. If we were all permanently judged based on our worst screw up, most of us would not have friends/a job.

    2. HR Manager*

      Of course violence is never ok, but the prankster could have unknowingly made the prankee feel like his job was being jeopardized. Being locked out right before a big client meeting is set to happen? I’d be pretty darn ticked. What if I had planned my time to go over key items like a presentation before the meeting — that time would gone, because of the prank. I may have to enter the meeting feeling flustered and less than 100%, right in front of a client. I don’t think these are big stretches, and the prankster is indeed putting the prankee’s reputation on the line.

      Unfortunately, trust lost is incredible hard to regain, as OP seems to have learned. Maybe for the best. Not all coworkers have to be BFs, as long as they can still work alongside each other.

      1. Anna*

        Sure, you can be pretty darned ticked. But you cannot physically touch someone and threaten them. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever. Ever. Anytime you say BUT after “Of course violence is never ok” you’re negating the idea that violence is never okay. There is no BUT after the phrase “violence is never ok”.

        1. SRMJ*

          Exactly!! It’s like ‘Of course violence is never okay…’ Great. Then why list a series of details arguing in favor of the prankee? Nobody’s saying the OP made a good decision here. Why people are justifying the prankee’s response, which included a threat of violence, gripping the OP by the arm and yanking him away hard from a conversation, by citing the OP’s behavior, is beyond me. It’s not relevant. Not when the prankee’s response is, again, a threat of violence and touching the OP in a controlling, rough way. That’s just not how you touch people.

      2. Cheesecake*

        “Of course violence is never ok, but”…i love this sentence, reminds me of “beating women is never ok! but sometimes they are just unbearable and i feel like my sanity is being jeopardize by her buying one more pair of shoes…”

    3. Cheesecake*

      I was waiting for this! I got a bit scared for mankind’s future after reading those violent comments. I agree, no matter what (and yes, OP was oh so wrong), one can not perform THAT in the office… next to clients! No touching and no threatening! OP learnt the lesson (and made a note about colleague’s behavior) and should move on.

      1. Bwmn*


        There are so many kinds of mistakes that our coworkers can end up making just prior to “big” meetings/events. Whether bone headed “oops”, slacking, making an honest mistake, etc. All of those mistakes have equally if not more potential to mess up someone else’s work. Violence and threats still are not remotely appropriate.

  14. Not So NewReader*

    Thanks for writing in, OP. It sounds like you have negotiated a “cease fire” that is working for both of you. And sometimes that is the best we can get out of a difficult situation. I suspect things will remain fairly calm.

    1. Vancouver Reader*

      Agreed. I don’t think either party feel any differently now than they did at the time and to be able to continue to work together cordially is probably the best solution that could be hoped for.

  15. MK*

    Alison, with no desire to pile on the OP, I have to say they still seem to shrink taking responsibility for their action. From this update, they sound as if their coworker was asking for it by joking around, that the coworker hasn’t learned their lesson and is still sending signals that are easy to misinterpret.

    1. Melissa*

      …or he could simply be saying that the person acts the same way as he did before and doesn’t seem to be scarred by the event, as evidenced by “Things seemed to have blown over.”

      1. Mister Pickle*

        For me, it was the line

        As for him, all I know is that he continues to “joke” with others in the same manner he did with me and sending the same signals to others that I initially misinterpreted.

        Putting the word ‘joke’ in quotes like that, and the phrase ‘sending the same signals to others that I initially misinterpreted’ – I find this difficult to interpret as anything but “he hasn’t changed, he’s still out there, deceiving other people the way he deceived me”.


  16. illini02*

    I don’t necessarily get the sense that the OP isn’t taking responsibility, just more saying how it is. I know many people seem to be hung up on the apology method, etc. But to me, its all about whether they have moved on or not, which it seems to have done. I guess I’m the type of person who doesn’t need a formal apology to be able to move past something. Its one thing if they are continually doing the same thing, but otherwise, I’m fine with just doing my job and you doing your job, and when you need to work together, you do that. I still think that despite Alison’s request of not piling on, people are doing that regardless. OP seems to acknowledge that what they did wasn’t a great idea. I do find it interesting that people seem to be ok with the physical threats in this situation.

    1. Another Lauren*

      Agree with this. I am one who would have hated (HATED) being the one who was pranked (I like to be “on” before client meetings, I’m not exactly a heights/balcony person, and I pretty much don’t like pranks in general), but honestly I cannot imagine threatening physical harm to someone, and grabbing their arm to pull them off somewhere to issue said threat…

      The OP already acknowledged to this readership/AAM that their prank wasn’t a good idea. OP already apologized to the coworker. I don’t understand why they would have to apologize again. Sure, it would nice, but frankly once the coworker escalated the situation to threats, I think an approach of maintaining politeness and professional distance is just fine. Candidly, I think apologizing multiple times post-threat would actually reinforce the bad behavior of the coworker (as in, “see, I was right to threaten him/her – otherwise they wouldn’t be apologizing so much”, when really the coworker was just as wrong for threatening physical harm). To me, actions speak louder than words…instead of multiple apologies, I’d rather someone just realize their mistake and move forward being more professional…which the OP seems to have done…

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Like you, I am not a heights person. I enjoy balconies, if I am standing on the ground! I also have a thing about being locked in small places. I had a coworker lock me in a freezer once. It was not funny. I could see myself getting very angry over a situation like this.
        This would force me to take a hard look at myself and examine how much of my anger is due to my fears leading my judgement around by the nose. One of my considerations in thinking about the situation would be “do I want to keep this job?”. In the freezer incident, it got me thinking about other problems at the job and I left the job a while later.

    2. Melissa*

      Agree. In fact, I think Alison has given the advice before that you don’t need to apologize profusely; a simple apology and moving on is the way to get through this, and it seems like both OP and coworker have moved on. I am also baffled that people think physical threats was a reasonable or expected response to a silly harmless prank.

  17. Zillah*

    Thanks for the update, OP!

    I do think that in saying that your coworker keeps joking around with everyone else, you are blaming the victim, to a certain extent. I think that the level to which you took the prank is sufficiently extreme that a reasonable person would view it as a one-off from a coworker with a bad sense of humor (or someone trying to sabotage me) rather than an honest miscommunication about what I found funny that could happen in the future. Just food for thought.

    Regardless: I don’t know that it’s necessary to cut out the jokes completely, so much as draw a very hard line for yourself regarding interfering with a person’s personal space and safety. That said, I can understand why so badly misjudging what a coworker found humorous might make you a little more shy to joke around at all, and if the boundaries you’ve drawn are working for you, that’s great.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Thanks for this constructive way of explaining your take on this update.

      When people wonder why some OPs don’t respond to comments or send in updates … well, some of the other comments here are why. This person went out of his way to update us as a favor to me and readers here; he didn’t have to do that, especially when he already got piled on massively the first time around.

      If you were an OP of a different letter, would the response here make you more or less likely to engage or update your own post, especially if yours was controversial in some way? Many people understandably conclude they have nothing to gain from it besides unwanted hassle and go quietly on their way. I can’t blame them for that.

      If you disagree with the OP’s take, there are kind ways and unkind ways to express that. Zillah, this is a great example of a kind one that I wish others would follow.

      1. Sue Wilson*

        I would still update. But then if I’m asking for advice, I’m taking the risk that I am dead wrong, and I know that when I ask or update, so…

      2. My 2 Cents*

        Alison – To answer your question here, yes the responses I sometimes see here on this blog would deter me from sending in letter in the first place, let alone sending in an update.

        People seem to forget that the OPs are very close to the situation at hand (because, well, they are a part of it), and sometimes people cannot see the situation from any other view. I believe many write into you to gain that perspective. I think those who write in are quite smart to ask for an outsider’s opinion. Yes, the stories are definitely slanted, but you help them nonetheless. But the comments are just…I don’t know the right word. Some commenters like to say that the OP has a “holier than thou” attitude because they think they are above the situation or coworkers. I have seen other times where they just dogpile on and on the OP. Of course, not all of the OPs have taken appropriate action, but what good does it do to publicly shame them? I wish I had more examples, but let me just tell you that even on open thread Fridays I’m reluctant to post unless I really absolutely need advice. There are some people who write in who I wish would take it down a notch. I remember their names, and if I see them writing in a lot, I dodge that day’s comments, particularly on the Fridays. They need to remember the saying “those in glass houses,” especially those who call out the “holier than thou” line.

        As Sue Wilson says above, “I’m taking the risk that I am dead wrong.” However, that does not mean the commenters are entitled to gang up on the OP.

  18. ruthy*

    A lot of people are commenting with the opinion that the prank was especially bad… Considering he was only locked out for a couple minutes I really don’t think it was as serious as some of the reactions seem to make it. Still it’s not a prank I would play (though I don’t play pranks anyway)

    It also depends on the culture of the workplace. In my current job it would be a big no. But in my previous job it’s the type of thing that would be forgotten in two minutes. We had a walk in freezer at minus 20 deg c. And it was not at all uncommon to shut the door on people and lean on it. The light would also go out.

    I don’t think the issue was the prank itself, but more the misjudging of how suitable it was for that target or on that situation.

    If this prank was done to me I’d be annoyed at the time but unless I got into some form of trouble as a result of it, it would be old news in a few minutes. (note i have a bias which is that i have worked a number of menial labour jobs where pranking is very common)

    I also think threatening physical violence is never ok regardless of who ‘started’ it. So maybe I’m alone in thinking the ‘victim’ is more in the wrong than the op. The op misjudged a situation and was unprofessional but had no harmful intentions. The other guy threatened violence. But I’m glad to hear it has blown over

    1. Melissa*

      Me either. I’m not really a pranks person, but as pranks go this one didn’t seem especially bad. So prankee got locked outside on a balcony for a few minutes. Harmless and silly, not egregious. (The phobias thing seems especially exaggerated. I do realize that people have phobias – but they are relatively rare and very unlikely to cause significant heart problems. More than likely it was just a minor psychological annoyance for the prankee. Threatening physical violence over it is WAY worse, and honestly I was much more concerned about someone who would threaten physical violence over a harmless prank than someone who would pull the prank in the first place.)

      I’ve never worked a job where pranks were a thing and I am not a fan, but if this happened to me I would be over it in a matter of minutes, much less months later.

      1. Observer*

        I fully agree that threatening violence was NOT ok. But your assumption that the victim of the prank was making up the intensity of his response is simply untenable. More people have phobias than you would imagine, although it’s often not obvious because they are often things that are easily avoided, especially in an office type of workplace. But if your prank winds up hitting that person’s phobia, then, yes, it really really can be serious – or feel serious, with racing pulse , nausea etc. I’ve seen it in action.

        In fact the violence of his immediate reaction, as inappropriate as it was, coupled with the fact that he’s been able to be professional with the OP since then indicates that it really was quite bad. If he had continued to be threatening to the OP, or started causing him problems, I could see that he’s just looking for trouble. But clearly he’s not looking for an excuse to misbehave. So, his extreme reaction must have been triggered by something.

        Don’t assume that something is not a serious problem because you’ve never seen it. That’s a major route for people winding up in the ER – people who assume that “she can’t really be so sensitive to milk” or “He’s just looking for an excuse to not drink. Let’s spike his punch” etc. This has come up here, in fact.

        1. Jean*

          +1,000 for this: “But if your prank winds up hitting that person’s phobia, then, yes, it really really can be serious – or feel serious, with racing pulse , nausea etc.”
          Oh, yes indeedy. I am paralyzingly afraid of “unsafe heights.” (Windows from a high floor? OK. Balcony on the same floor? No way! I’ve managed to step outside, but it’s almost impossible for me to stay outside. Could this phobia be overcome with a lot of hard work plus the guidance of a skilled therapist? Probably, but it’s just as easy for me to live my life by avoiding most professional or personal circumstances that involve heights (e.g., building bridges, using high-dive platforms).

          1. Kat M*

            Me too. I don’t condone the reaction but I myself would have been sufficiently freaked out and likely would have overreacted myself.

            Also, being locked anywhere terrifies me like nothing else. It reminds me of the time I was on a field trip in elementary school and was locked in a bus bathroom because my classmates thought it was funny to hear me scream. You never know what kind of triggers someone might have and, while joking around is usually fine, pranks might not go over well for this reason.

        2. fdgery*

          Absolutely. It reminds me of how people in food service will sometimes give people regular soda instead of diet or dairy instead of soy, because they assume the person is asking for those things for frivolous reasons, when it could actually send them to the hospital. And it seems to me like people take phobias and mental triggers even less seriously than physical ailments.

        3. Another Lauren*

          I’m not trying to be contrarian here, just genuinely curious. If someone has a serious phobia of heights (one that would lead them to threaten someone else), is it even likely they’d voluntarily go out onto a balcony? We didn’t hear anything about the coworker being pushed or forced out onto the balcony – it sounded more like they were already there and the OP shut and locked the door for a few minutes.

          I definitely get the phobia concept, but just wondering if the severity of it would negate the likelihood of placing oneself in a situation like that voluntarily, making this particular scenario less likely…

          1. Cheesecake*

            Excellent point! My colleague always goes downstairs to smoke, even though balcony is close (and nice). She has a phobia and you can never ever make her stand on that balcony in the first place

          2. Claire*

            The phobia doesn’t have to be of heights. Being locked in somewhere would make me panic and freak out, and probably induce an anxiety attack. I avoid places I know am likely to be unable to get out of easily. But I wouldn’t expect that of a public space in my workplace.

            1. Cath in Canada*

              Same here – I’m OK with “safe” heights, but phobic about not having a clear exit. A balcony feels like a safe height to me (although I won’t go too close to the edge), but if someone locks me out there? I’m going to freak out.

          3. Observer*

            Two things – one is that sometimes a person might be able to step out, but that’s their absolute limit. Jean describes that. But, more relevant here, it’s quite possible that it’s the locked door that triggered him. In fact, the OP writes that the co-worker told him that she would have warned him not to lock the door. I can’t really think of any reason most people would need to share a phobia of locked doors in a typical work situation, at least in the US (where it is illegal to lock people into a building).

      2. Cafe Au Lait*

        I worked summer camp, and one summer I had a group of extreme pranksters. I caught them their first night while they were carrying out a prank, and had a wee chat with them. Basically pranks needs to meet three critera:

        1. They don’t physically harm someone.
        2. They don’t damage property.
        3. The prankee is able to find a way out from the prank.

        It was a very low-key, humorous summer.

    2. Brianne*

      I have an extreme phobia of heights. I used to live on the 21st floor of a building and I was too terrified to go onto the balcony because of my fear of heights. Please don’t dismiss people’s genuine phobias.

  19. Melissa*

    Congrats on your special project, OP! I’m glad this has blown over and doesn’t seem to have affected your job.

  20. Hiring Mgr*

    My assumption is that the OP has been put on this so-called “special project” because his bosses realize the toxic environment he has created and are trying to remove him from the general workplace, likely as a prelude to further disciplinary action.

    1. Observer*

      That seems to me to painting with an overly broad and harsh brush. And, I don’t think you have anything to base it on. Nothing the OP describes falls into “toxic environment” territory. Nor does there seem to be any reason to think that there is further action pending.

    2. Jake*

      Your comment is far more indicative of a toxic environment than his update. I’d call any situation where being put on a special project is your punishment, without anybody even talking directly to you about it, toxic. In fact I’d say that kind of passive-aggressive behavior would lead me to look for another job.

      The fact that this was brought up without any evidence from the letter makes me believe that there are more employers out there that behave this poorly than I had thought.

      1. AW*


        What the heck, Hiring Mgr?

        “likely as a prelude to further disciplinary action.”

        Is there any legit reason why they wouldn’t just call him in for a disciplinary action and be done with it? Again, the original letter is from APRIL. If management was told at the time and was going to do something about it, they’d have done it already.

        Also, making someone the 2nd on a project as “punishment” doesn’t make any kind of sense.

    3. Mister Pickle*

      I dunno, it’s not uncommon for people here (and elsewhere) to draw inferences “out of the vacuum”, so to speak. For instance, there was a lot of discussion about whether OP might have triggered some kind of phobia in the co-worker – which isn’t impossible, but I don’t think there was any evidence for it. But it isn’t necessarily invalid, either – I’m reminded of solving certain equations in algebra, sometimes you pull a value out of thin air and add it to both sides of the equation – and now you can solve it.

      Having said that, I personally don’t think the ‘special project’ is punitive because, frankly, I think the reason the OP wrote back with an update was to show everyone here on AAM that he was “right” and it’s been Green Grass and High Tides for the past 7 months. Although we can pity him because he’s no longer the happy, carefree prankster he once was – he’s really a victim, you see. In short, if anything truly negative happened to OP, he’s not inclined to tell us.

      I guess there’s the possibility that the ‘special project’ is indeed punitive but OP doesn’t know it yet. But if that’s the case, we’ll never know.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This strikes me as really far on the other side of the line I asked people to observe on this post. I know people are now caught up in the discussion, but please respect the request I made at the start!

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          As the OP said, things have blown over. They may not be the best of friends, but a healthy working relationship is pretty good after the initial incident.

  21. CLT*

    The exchange between these two co-workers could possibly be just a clash of different cultures. The OP perhaps comes from a culture where pulling pranks is a normal thing to do. He expected the prank to be reciprocated. He did not predict how badly his coworker would take the prank.

    The coworker perhaps comes from a culture where pranks are seen as an aggressive way to make a fool of a person, and the only way to shut down such aggression is with aggression of your own. While this approach is not often seen in an American office, it wouldn’t be thought twice about in some cultures (aggressive sporting cultures, for example).

    The OP’s shock at the aggressive response may have been matched by the coworker’s shock at being made a fool of at work. And while the OP may still be thinking and worrying about this, the coworker quite possibly hasn’t given it another thought.

  22. Preston*

    Read the original letter and the update. If the OP is really worried about the relationship he/she has with this coworker. Just talk to them, tell them, you were really sorry and want to get back to where you guys/gals were before. For all the OP knows the pranked coworker might have moved on and has “burried the hatchet.” If not then the OP will know too. I wouldn’t lose sleep over this. Holding a gudge is when a person drinks a poison and expects the other to die…

  23. AW*

    I don’t get why everyone is so bent on dismissing the experiences of both the OP and the co-worker. The co-worker was very upset with the prank. This is legitimate: they may have been scared and/or upset that they were trapped right before a client meeting. They may have been upset that they OP just left them there (the OP wasn’t the one who got them back in the building.) They may just hate being pranked. Whatever the case, it is not unreasonable for them to be upset about this.

    The OP was upset about being threatened. This is also legitimate. The OP was grabbed and threatened with physical violence. The co-worker put their hand(s) on them. This is not at all OK. We have no reason to think that the OP is exaggerating this part or that they shouldn’t have taken this seriously.

    They both behaved poorly but that they each got upset makes sense. There is no need to pretend that the prank itself wasn’t a big deal just because you don’t think the OP should have been threatened or to pretend the threat was overblown just because you think the co-worker had a right to get upset.

    1. AnonyMouse*

      Yes, exactly. The prank was a mistake and warranted an apology. Threats of violence are also unacceptable in a work setting.

      1. AnonyMouse*

        Oops, posted prematurely by accident. Meant to also add that it’s very possible for two people to both be at fault in a situation like this, and neither mistake makes the other’s actions acceptable.

  24. Wilson*

    I went back and read the original comments and they mostly seemed to support the OP, so I don’t know what Alison is talking about. The OP was an asshole and I would have done a lot more than threaten him (which I think was more than justified); I would have gone to HR and/or his manager his “prank” would become part of his HR file. Lesson: just don’t prank at work, people, or ever if it were up to me.

  25. Paula*

    I’m glad you aren’t pranking people any more. You commented that you are there to work, not make friends. That seems out of touch too. There are other ways (much nicer ones!) to make friends with people than pranking and joking. You can work AND make friends with your coworkers, in a mature and grown up way. Most people prefer that to juvenile pranks.

  26. JustMe*

    Consider yourself lucky he didn’t press charges. What you did is call “False Imprisonment” and is something that will get you arrested.

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