my employees played a horrible prank on a coworker — what do I do now?

A reader writes:

I’m writing seeking advice as to how I as a manager can handle the aftermath of a joke gone wrong. The joke never should have been played in the first place, but that ship has sailed. I manage four reports and two of them made another think $50,000 had gone missing and she was being arrested for stealing it (my other report was not involved at all). They went so far as to get one of their wives to pretend to be a police officer there for the arrest. The one who was accused wept so hard she vomited. She was adamant she didn’t do it and asked to phone someone to go stay with her sick mother while she was in custody. It was only then she was let in on the joke. She has not returned since it happened and will not answers calls or letters.

I am furious. Their joke was unacceptable, and if I had known what they were planning I would have shut it down. I don’t have the power to fire them or I would have already.

I have no clue what they were thinking. They say it was intended to be hilarious, not mean. I don’t know of any trouble before this and all of my reports seem to get along. The one they played the joke on has only worked here for a few months and is fresh out of school while my other three reports have worked here for anywhere between 6-9 years and have all been on this team for over five years.

One day I’m going to write a list of things I’ve learned from writing this column, and at the top of the list will be “People have remarkably terribly judgment about what pranks other people will find funny.” Because it’s a repeated theme here — someone does something that they genuinely believe the other person will laugh about in the end, but the other person is actually horrified/panicked/angry/sickened. Laughter does not ensue.

Often when the subject of pranks comes up here, there’s a portion of commenters who argue that no pranks are ever okay at work, that they’re always mean-spirited by nature. I disagree with that. I’ve seen plenty of pranks played that weren’t mean-spirited, landed the way they were intended to, and were enjoyed by all. If that’s going to happen, though, you need to know how your target well, know they enjoy pranks, and be absolutely sure of how the prank will be perceived. And the goal of the prank can’t be to scare the person, make them look foolish, or make them thinking something terrible is happening to them. The prank needs to be funny for everyone, not just the people executing it.

Obviously your employees’ prank failed this test on every level. They didn’t know their target well (she’d only worked there a few months), and the prank was designed to make her think something awful was happening. Assuming that your employees are not truly terrible people, they must not have realized how seriously she’d take the situation — and didn’t predict that she’d cry and vomit and think her life was being destroyed. But given the scenario they’d concocted, that was terrible judgment on their part, not a reasonable belief. So your two employees who did this are, in the most generous telling, really stupid.

As for what to do now … it sounds like your authority here is limited, so you should be talking to whoever above you does have the authority to impose consequences. If that’s fruitless for some reason and your hands are truly tied, then at a minimum you need to have a deadly serious conversation with each of them in which you explain that they caused serious harm to a colleague, to your team (someone quit over it), and to your organization; that you can no longer trust their judgment, which might have consequences like X and Y for their work (fill in with what that really means in your context); that you’ll be watching them much more closely from now on; and that you expect them to do serious work to restore your and others’ confidence in them.

And then follow through on those things. Their judgment is terrible. What are the natural consequences for that in their work? You’ll need to consider it in project assignments, the level of oversight you give their work, performance evaluations, etc.

I’m also curious about how they’ve reacted to what happened. Do they maintain they did nothing wrong, even now that they’ve seen their target vomit and quit her job over this, and do they continue to insist that they meant well and it’s not their fault that she didn’t react as planned? Or have they realized in retrospect how horrible this was? If it’s the latter, you at least have something to work with here. If it’s the former … well, I’d double-down on making your case to whoever does have the authority to fire them. And I don’t say that lightly. Firing shouldn’t be a punishment or a way to express your anger at someone — but it is a natural consequence when it no longer makes sense to keep someone in a job. In most cases, a single bad judgment call doesn’t reach that bar. But if they don’t see where they went wrong about something so flagrantly obvious, you can’t trust them to exercise good judgment in other areas either.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 1,068 comments… read them below }

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Yes, please do send an update. Send it ASAP if it involves a figurative or literal b$tch slap to these two morons.

      2. Working Mom*

        If there were ever a good reason to do the old fashioned, “You’re FIRED!” this would be the time.

        1. Wintermute*

          I’d be almost tempted to stoop to their level and taunt them with it. “You know you’ve been like my sister to me” “but boss, you don’t have a sister…” “I see you understand where I’m going with this.”

          Not that you COULD do that or should but dang if anyone deserves cruel taunting, it’s this person.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Seriously. I hope there’s someone in the organization who *does* have the authority to fire them, and at the very least, that that person can sit in on the Do Not Ever Do This Again meeting. What a horrible thing to do to someone.

      1. Snark*

        And that meeting needs to include not just Do Not Ever Do This Again, but Do Not Ever Do Anything Even Remotely Like This Again. Like, if you think the Thing would be funny, just maybe don’t ever. These people are so off the reservation that they need to basically assume that if it’s at work and it’s not their actual job duties or being collegially pleasant and friendly, they’re not to do it.

        1. KarenT*

          Agreed. I’m pretty curious to know how remorseful these characters are feeling now. I’d be sick if I had done this to someone, but that’s probably a personality quirk that prevents me from doing things like this in the first place.

          1. Decima Dewey*

            I’d love to hear them explain how “Lucretia, your life is ruined!” was meant to be funny to Lucretia

          2. Monsters of Men*

            Yeah, that personality quirk is called basic humanity, as in being kind, sympathetic, and positive in your intrapersonal interactions.

          3. Raveynfyre*

            You have something that they don’t, empathy. You can extrapolate how you would feel in the given scenario so you’re miles ahead of people like them (narcissistic personalities).

        2. Isben Takes Tea*

          Quick note for future reference: “off the reservation” is a problematic phrase for Native Americans. Maybe switch to “out of the ballpark”?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I’m okay with flagging stuff like this that someone may not realize is an insensitive phrase if it’s done in a civil way like this (but we only need that to happen once! no need for a long thread discussing it)

              1. Mouse*

                Oh cool, thanks for the clarification! I think it’s one of the site rules that most helps to keep this place friendly and a non threatening place to hang out and chat. I wish more sites had that as a rule!

      2. Jesca*

        I agree. I would be headed straight to whomever that person is. Stat! And whatever control I do have, I will be executing that to its fullest extent. Holy butt monkeys, in what world is this funny?! Its like those parents who got their kids taken away for their “pranking” videos on YouTube! I wouldn’t trust these people with a pencil!

        1. Liane*

          “I wouldn’t trust these people with a pencil!”
          Same here. I wouldn’t trust them to breathe, either, except that is one of the autonomic bodily functions.

        2. Wintermute*

          As my boss says of particularly unreliable vendors: “I wouldn’t trust them to know which way to sit on a toilet seat”

          1. K*

            Anecdote here; we do have signs in our work toilets how to sit on and how to use them. This includes not standing on the seat and not trying to flush down cans.

            1. attie*

              Anecdote bis: my aunt lived in a rural area where hole-in-the-ground toilets were the norm (they’re by far the superior option when you don’t have running water). She was probably the only one to have a bowl-style toilet imported for her office, and her clients really could’ve done with such a sign! When I was three I accidentally walked in on someone trying to figure out how to use the toilet. I will defend those signs until my dying day! (Hypocritically, I will totally make fun of the “don’t use the hairdryer on hair other than on your head” sign at the swimming pool though.)

              1. sacados*

                Yup, weird as it may seem to someone from a first-world country background, those signs are definitely necessary! Also ones about flushing toilet paper down the toilet– in some areas the sewage system can’t actually handle all that paper so you are supposed to put the toilet paper in a trash can. I’ve definitely seen stalls with a big pile of toilet paper on the floor in the corner, from where the person was clearly stumped by the lack of a big trash can and didn’t realize it was okay to flush the TP.
                My absolute favorite bathroom sign tho (which I have seen more than once in different high-end department stores!!) is the one telling people not to use a lighter to heat up their eyelash curlers, because it may set off the fire alarm.

      3. Anonymous Educator*

        If I were the OP and saw that the people who had the authority to fire didn’t fire and didn’t dole out any other real consequences, I’d be applying for other jobs. There’s no way I’d want to stay in that organization with those people.

        1. Snark*

          And I’d be very clear in the exit interview that I was quitting because of how this situation was handled.

            1. EddieSherbert*

              +1 I would definitely reconsider working for upper management who doesn’t see what’s wrong here!

        2. depizan*

          The OP, the fourth person on the team, anyone else in the office… It seems like by not having any consequences for the people judgment that is beyond terrible, the workplace stands a pretty high risk of losing multiple other people. I think it would be very hard to continue working in a place where employees did something like that to a fellow employee and faced no consequences for it. And I’m not sure there are appropriate consequences short of firing. (Which I realize the OP doesn’t have control over. I’m not blaming them for this.)

          It’s just such an utter destruction of trust, and a reveal that the people who pulled the prank have – at best – no sense whatsoever.

        3. paul*


          What they did is inexcusable. Continuing until she was puking? That goes beyond bad judgement and straight into callousness (at best).

          OP, this might be worth using up capital over if that’s waht it takes to get them gone. Holy cow.

          1. Observer*

            No, it STARTED with callousness, and went from there to sadism. I mean HOW does any human being with a shred of feeling think it’s SOOO funny to make someone think that they are about to have their life ruined – arrested and branded and a major thief – that they would go to these lengths. Watching her vomit and only stop the “joke” when it was about to leave the office, is just horrendous.

            1. EddieSherbert*

              Not to mention letting it continue as you watch her scramble to find someone to take care of her sick mother?! What the actual eff.

              1. Fortitude Jones*

                Yeah, that part got me. For that alone, these people need to be fired or put on probation – something.

                1. Teapot PR consultant*

                  Probation? No. Even in a country with strong workplace protections like Australia, this should be an immediate, finish now, we’ll courier your personal effects to you dismissal.

                2. Testy McTesterson*

                  Yup. I’m in Australia and we have provisions for gross misconduct that allow immediate dismissal.

                3. Annonymouse*

                  These people should have effectively ruined their own careers.
                  Played a terrible “prank” that got someone to quit? Worked at this place 6/9 years and not get a reference? That should do it.

            2. depizan*

              And everyone else in the office – assuming that this wasn’t all happening behind a closed office door (which would be concerning for different reasons) – must have thought it was real, too. Otherwise, I can’t imagine people wouldn’t have stepped in to stop it.

              The lengths the “pranksters” went to, combined with the lack of obvious intended outcome – other than the one that happened – make this look not just sadistic and terrible but…kind of not like a prank. I mean, maybe they have confused sitcoms with reality, but they put a lot of time and thought and, unless the wife already had a police costume, money into this thing. It’s hard not to read it as them intentionally driving this young woman out of her job.

              1. Lupe*

                This is seriously terrible, but the police uniform bit caught my interest too, as it gives you some other avenues for action. OP, you might want to look at the penalties for impersonating a police officer in your juristiction, and bring it up with whoever can fire these idiots. (I mean, the first thing should be enough, but..)

                1. Anion*

                  Oooh, good idea! It’s probably too late or not enough of a “real” impersonation, if you know what I mean, to have any effect, but it’s worth looking into.

              2. Caro in the UK*

                I agree. I’m not a prankster, so my lines may be different to others, but this seems like straight up bullying to me. Just because they’re calling it a ‘prank’, doesn’t necesarily mean that it should be treated as one.

            3. LSP*

              Once someone is crying, the joke is way over. Letting someone weep so hard to the point of vomiting definitely drifts into the sadistic category.

              This is going to leave scars on the employee who was the victim, and maybe other people who witnessed it. Get those two “jokers” out of your office! They are capital “T” Toxic!

              1. SarahKay*

                That’s what I was thinking. If, as soon as the victim *started* to cry the perpetrators stopped there, than that’s a bad prank, but not a firing offence. To keep going after that point – what’s wrong with those two?!? How do you let someone cry so much they throw up, let someone panic about getting care for their sick mother, as a prank?!?
                OP, please escalate this as hard as you can.

                1. One of the Sarahs*

                  I think it’s still fire-able – she was trying to find someone to look after her sick mother! Say she was too numb to cry, for example – it still would have been a massive, impossible-to-recover-from lapse in judgement, and an example of bullying a junior member of staff.

                2. Turtle Candle*

                  That’s where my brain just stops short. If they did this and stopped as soon as she showed distress, that would be, well, a really truly terrible idea and something that would merit a Serious Talking To, but I could still keep it in the category of “bad judgment.” But persisting when she showed distress, to the point not only of tears but of vomiting–I can’t see how to read that as anything but intentional cruelty. You can’t really argue that you didn’t know how badly she’d take it when you saw her take it badly and kept going!

              2. Anion*

                That was exactly my thought. I love pranks. I’ve been pranked and I’ve played pranks, none of which were mean-spirited or caused anyone more than a second of “Ack!” before the “You guys…” and laughter. But the second anyone starts actually *crying,* the prank stops immediately and abject apologies, and possibly a gift of some kind, needs to be forthcoming. Instantly. That is not funny.

                If the only “prank” you can think of has the serious potential to cause someone to cry, it’s not a very good prank and you should stop before you start. And if you can watch someone you know cry that hard and think it’s funny, something is wrong with you.

                (None of the pranks I’ve been involved in have ever made anyone cry, just to clarify.)

                1. Annonymouse*

                  And the level of upset it intended to cause = not a prank.

                  A prank should be funny or cause minor upset or inconvenience.
                  i.e watch out! tosses rubber spider at you.
                  Or wraps clingfilm over your computer monitor.

                  This from the start was a terrible idea. Thinking you are going to be arrested for grand theft when you didn’t do anything? Picking on the newest member of the team?

                  If she hadn’t mentioned the sick mother how would this have ended? Taken her in a car and driven her to the police station before turning around?

                  What was the endgame or point?

            4. NorthernSoutherner*

              I have a feeling there’s no remorse and that the pranksters fall into the A column Alison mentioned — they maintain it wasn’t their fault co-worker didn’t react as planned. These sadistic types blame the victim for being a drama queen or ‘too sensitive’ or for not having a sense of humor. They’ll find a way to vindicate themselves, especially since co-worker hasn’t come back and they can tell themselves she’s ‘overreacting.’

        4. Anon anon anon*

          Same here. I wouldn’t want to be associated with an organization that tolerates that kind of thing. I’d be meeting with higher ups and job searching.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      So much this. If you can’t fire them, use every other disciplinary tool in the box (or enlist someone who can).

      I can’t believe they didn’t say anything until she was making elder care arrangements. Like the sobbing and vomiting weren’t bad enough? I don’t know who these employees are, but if they have one shred of human decency, they’ll be abjectly and sincerely remorseful for causing someone this level of distress/pain.

      1. Xarcady*

        That’s what really stood out to me. It had to have been clear that the victim was not laughing and did not think it was a joke. To continue past the crying point, or the vomiting point was mean-spirited and shows a severe lack of good judgment. And makes it clear the “joke” was entirely for the benefit of the “jokesters.”

        1. Snark*

          It’s not just mean. Doing the prank and stopping when she started crying? Mean. Bringing in your wife to impersonate a cop and letting her cry until she vomited? Pathologically, monstrously sociopathic. Like, sociopathic to the point that I wouldn’t be astonished if they dissected neighborhood cats in their spare time.

            1. EddieSherbert*

              +1 I thought of this, and oh my gosh, if I was the victim of the prank I would probably try to get them into legitimate trouble for this.

              1. SamKD*

                +1 to that – also, if I were the victim of this…incident…(“prank” has connotations far too tame) I would be contacting an attorney to see if I had anything actionable. Possibly (Probably?) not but I’d definitely be checking.

                1. Mischa*

                  Yep. Not a lawyer, but I immediately thought of intentional infliction of emotional distress or something like that. (Law student and I have torts on the brain.)

                2. Say what, now?*

                  Very interesting and informative, Mischa. Thanks for going through that for us not so law-savvy types. I think it seems obvious with the way you’ve laid it out that it’s court-worthy.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I don’t think this would reach IIED levels, Mischa (although the new employee did have physical symptoms, which are often hard to prove).

                4. Mischa*

                  @PCBH — Yep, the more I think about it, the more I agree. And the more evident it is that 1) I need to study harder for torts, and 2) personal injury isn’t my niche.

                  Thanks for your perspectives, everyone. This overwhelmed law student appreciates it.

              2. Say what, now?*

                Mischa, just out of curiosity. Assuming that you were a fully licensed lawyer, how likely would you be to take this case? Or maybe the better question is, how likely would you think it that the victim would win?

                1. Mischa*

                  I think the employee has a good case for IIED and if I were an actual lawyer, I would consider taking it. It appears that the most difficult part will be proving damages.

                  The four elements of intentional infliction of emotional distress are 1) intentional or reckless conduct, 2) extreme and outrageous behavior, 4) causal connection between wrongful conduct and emotional distress, and 4) the distress must be severe. It appears that these four elements are met. The pranksters’ actions were intentional (their motive is irrelevant) and obviously reckless, the prank was severe and outrageous, there is an obvious link between the distress, and the distress was severe enough to cause the employee to vomit. The biggest struggle for a plaintiff is proving that their distress was severe. This case reminds me of State Rubbish Collectors Association v. Siliznoff, where a union threatened Siliznoff with imminent battery if he did not comply with their demands (I can’t remember the rest of the facts), but Siliznoff was so distressed that he also vomited. He was able to collect for IIED.

                  I’m not so sure on the false imprisonment claim.

                2. Green*

                  Some lawyers might write a demand letter, but almost no likelihood of winning unless they alleged the harassment was based on a protected characteristic (race, religion, etc.).

                3. Not Brian Dailey*

                  >The pranksters’ actions were intentional (their motive is irrelevant)

                  I think that the pranksters should be fired forthwith.

                  That said, since we’re moving into law exam territory: the above is conclusory. The fact pattern reminds me quite a bit of Garratt v. Dailey, which is a famous tort law case about what “intent” means in the context of intentional torts. In that case, a toddler pulled a chair out from under a woman as a prank. The lower court found that that the toddler didn’t intentionally harm the woman. The appellate court overruled, saying that there was “substantial certainty” the woman would be injured and thus intent.

                  You can argue — correctly — that Garratt stands for the proposition that “it’s a prank!” isn’t a defense against an intentional tort. But the case is taught for establishing the “substantial certainty” standard, and I think that standard is tough to overcome here.

                  A kid pulls a chair out from an adult — yup, you’re substantially certain she’ll fall. It’s basic physics. (“Defying gravity” is but a musical number or a luxury for astronauts.) But I don’t see the same level of certainty here. More likely, the employees thought that the victim would find the whole thing hilarious. That’s a severe miscalculation, but not intent.

                4. Mischa*

                  @Not Brian Dailey

                  Thank you for pointing that out. I will have to ask my torts professor about this case. We have learned so far that it’s the person’s intent to act, not their motivation to act. But, I am only a 1L and torts is not my best subject and I admit that I could be absolutely wrong. I don’t want to get things off topic so I will leave this here.

                5. Not Brian Dailey*

                  Think about this a little further, *perhaps* you could argue that while there was no substantial certainty of emotional distress at the *outset* of the prank, once the victim began vomiting, there was substantial certainty of emotional distress in *continuing* the prank. Perhaps. But I still don’t think it rises to the level of Newtonian physics.

                6. Mischa*

                  @Not Brian Daley

                  Ahhh, I see now. And yes, I agree with you. Thank you for taking the time to explain that. I appreciate it.

                7. NorthernSoutherner*

                  Let me quickly say that I’ve often wondered about those ‘phony phone calls’ you hear on radio shows. Sometimes the target gets so worked up, I’ve thought, ‘what if this person actually has a heart attack or something?’ So what if co-worker actually had collapsed or fainted? There would likely be a case there.

                8. Green*

                  No offense intended to Mischa (who told everyone she was just a law student and was explicitly asked for her opinion), but please don’t legal explanations from 1Ls. The law school teaching method is historical (so you spend the first part of the semester learning cases from the 1700s, 1800s, 1900s and then SURPRISE it’s actually not at all how things work anymore) so you can see the development of law. Then about half of the law schools use true Socratic method (it’s not really about learning the elements but learning the thought process through questioning) and the other half use rote memorization of elements. Alas, neither of those learning methods actually teach much practical law.

                  It is almost never IIED. IIED usually requires severe emotional distress with a physical manifestation (i.e., heart attack), lengthy duration of the emotional distress, and usually it involves incorrectly saying someone has died, etc. You essentially have to argue that you continue to be fragile as a result of the actions, and it is rarely successful. It’s a somewhat common allegation in pleadings, but usually is dropped because of the low chance of recovery.

              3. MerciMe*

                Well, and that’s it, right? The next time they heard from me it would be through my lawyer. As the supervisor/manager in charge, I’d also be in touch with my HR and legal departments to figure out how what steps to take to mitigate our own legal risks from this. (I’m betting they involve consequences for the instigators at a minimum, though.)

                1. Ask a different manager*

                  That, especially. I’d be up at HR and Legal so fast warning them what happened it would leave my pen and papers twirling in the air above my chair like a cartoon. You better hope the employee who quit doesn’t have any other stories about a hostile work environment that management did know about. Oh, and she’s a she? Were the perpetrators male?

                  Sorry this happened to you, OP. I think you have to fire or suspend these employees, and not because of the legal risk. Because it’s the right thing to do. Mildly inconveniencing someone can be funny, in the right circumstances. Threatening someone’s job, financial security, freedom… basically their whole life, is not that.

              1. Hills to Die on*

                That would be such a fantastic update. I hope someone does. Those two should really be held accountable which doesn’t appear is happening currently.

              2. LadyCop*

                It’s very difficult to say a crime has been committed. IIED is definitely something for lawyers to sort out, and despite some suggestions of impersonating a Peace Officer, I would need a lot more details to make an arrest in this case.

                That said. These employees are asshats and should be promptly shown the door.

          1. Observer*

            I agree. I also don’t think that they didn’t understand what they were doing. I find it interesting that her crying to the point of vomiting didn’t phase them. But actually telling someone what was going on stopped them.

            Which is another reason why I suspect that the office culture is more toxic than the OP realizes. They clearly thought that no one in the office would have real problems with it – at least not enough to create problems for them. And, it turns out that they had good reason to believe this!.

              1. Jesca*

                Yes, I tend to agree. They felt as though they were in enough power that they could openly and without repercussion exhibit their sadistic tendencies. Do not confuse this with anything else; this is sadism. A culture needs to first exist for people to become comfortable enough to go to this level. OP needs to take a long hard look around.

                1. Say what, now?*

                  But also, let’s remember that it’s not necessarily the OP’s fault that it’s like this. The OP didn’t approve of the employees’ actions and feels terribly about it. I get the sense that if he/she would have the power to make consequences there would have been immediate repercussions. It’s bad practice for companies to put managers in place that have no ability to fire their problem employees. I sympathize with the OP there.

                2. Jesca*

                  Yeah, I don’t think anyone is blaming the OP. The comments are to encourage the OP to take a broader look at the culture and beware.

                3. Annonymouse*

                  It sounds like (to borrow a term from “Bar Rescue”) OP is a “Stupid-visor”.

                  This means they get all the crap parts of being a boss – assigning people work and following up to do it, the ass kicking if the work isn’t done etc with none of the official power or perks.

                  It’s a bad way to run things.

                4. JessaB*

                  Yeh, taking on a management position without firing ability is a hill I will die on. If I can’t actually discipline anyone and know that the bigger bosses have my back, I won’t do it. Ever. Having a title and no authority is just a way to get stuck in things like this. Something awful happens and you can’t do beans about it.

            1. The Strand*

              I agree. This makes me worry for the long term consequences not only for the victim, but everyone who sees these cruel bozos getting away with this. It can be just as bad physically and emotionally to witness bullying, especially when good people don’t or can’t act.

          2. LesMor*

            You are right on the money – the perpetrat0rs would have to be sociopaths to do this to another human being. In fact, since sociopaths enjoy accusing others of what they themselves are guilty of, I’d be looking for signs of criminal behavior on THEIR parts.

            1. JB*


              It’s similar to the Al Capone rule as applied in sexual harassement investigations. People willing to break some rules for the lulz are likely to break others for the profits.

            2. Hills to Die on*

              I was horrified by this but after reading this comment, this whole thing makes me physically ill…

              1. Julia the Survivor*

                I’m horrified by this also and was thinking this is emotional abuse and blatantly hostile. Different name for the same thing.
                In my experience such people are not unusual, which is a sad and horrifying commentary on American culture. :'(

                1. Anion*

                  Huh. In my experience they’re quite unusual–far less common in the US than in another country I’ve lived in, and my childrens’ experiences agree with mine.

                2. Julia the Survivor*

                  I haven’t lived in other countries. From my experience it seems to depend a lot on what part of the U.S. you live in. I was raised in an ignorant fundamentalist area and moved to the big city as soon as I was old enough. There are pockets of ignorance here too, but it’s much easier to avoid.

        2. GG Two shoes*

          This reminds me of something my kindergarten teacher friend says to her students, “a joke has to be fun for everyone involved.” Basically, if a joke is at the expense of another person, it’s not a joke, it’s teasing.

          1. Emily*

            The VP of my department is known for constantly forwarding educational/professional development emails and articles to whoever in the department he thinks might enjoy/benefit from them. Everyone in the department gets at least a few a week from him.

            So for his five-year anniversary, we coordinated for all two dozen of us to forward him an interesting article or professional development opportunity at the exact same time. He loved it!

            That is what a successful workplace prank looks like. It’s not mean. Nobody gets hurts. Nobody ever thinks they’re in trouble. Everybody just coordinates doing something silly.

            1. Hills to Die on*

              That’s cute!

              Another okay prank at my own expense: on birthdays, cubes at my old office got decorated. I happened to be sitting in a cube with a weird little window in an area that people are supposed to walk AROUND but frequeny walked THROUGH. I also hate using the phone and prefer email.

              My cube was decorated with signs on the little that read, “look here!” And footprints through my area that read “walk this way!!”, plus giant signs all over and around my phone that read, “call me!”. Cute and harmless.

              1. Tiny Soprano*

                Yes, one time we had a guy decorate another guy’s desk by sticking orange ping-pong balls all over it while he was on leave. I thought it looked like a Yayoi Kusama installation piece!

            2. Anon anon anon*

              Exactly. A good prank communicates some kind of fondness for the person being pranked. And no one gets hurt.

              1. KarenHammond*

                Those are good rules. I remember, years ago, paying to have a dozen “sympathy” balloons delivered to a coworkers’ goldfish (known throughout the office as Mr. Fish) on the opening day of fishing season (well anyway, the Friday before).

          2. Allison*


            If you tell a joke and no one laughs, it’s a garbage joke. If you tell a joke and the target not only doesn’t laugh but actually gets upset, you’re a jerk.

            So tired of coworkers who say dumb stuff for their own amusement. Boils my beans.

            1. Hills to Die on*

              As they say at my kids elementary school, jokes are funny. It’s only funny if everyone is laughing.

            2. JessaB*

              Yes, and I swear that anyone who ever answers the upset person with “Just Kidding,” should just have the earth open up and swallow them. Because Just Kidding is gaslighting at it’s extreme.

      2. Karen D*

        Yeah, I got to the part where she was pleading for time to make arrangements for someone to take care of her mom and just … lost it.

        There aren’t enough adjectives in the dictionary to cover this one, but I agree with every one that’s been used in this thread: This was vicious, heartless, sociopathic torture.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Yeah, I got to the part where she was pleading for time to make arrangements for someone to take care of her mom and just … lost it.

          Same. That poor girl – I want to hug her.

    3. Anon Accountant*

      I think this is the best consequence. Fire them right out of a cannon. My eyes are tearing up for this poor employee.

      There are no words my brain can process.

        1. Snark*

          Do you know any Italian or Spanish profanity? We’re gonna run out if we just use English. I can teach you.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              I don’t know enough to cuss someone out fluently, but Russian profanity also sounds fantastic

          1. Snark*

            I’m just imagining a chorus line of AAMers reeling off a UN General Assembly worth of polyglot profanity at these two guys, and it’s making me SO HAPPY

          2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            I’ve got plenty of Spanish profanity and my dad was a sailor, I’ve got loads of ammunition

          3. Jadelyn*

            I have a few choice phrases in Italian I can contribute, plus I’m very creative with English profanity, so I might be able to extend our range there a bit too.

            1. Nita*

              I’ll throw in Hebrew and a couple East European languages. It’s been a while since I’ve wanted to use every bit I know, but for these guys, it’s the least I could do.

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Seriously. If I worked there and saw this happening and they didn’t get fired, I would have serious reservations about continuing my employment.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I’d jump straight past “serious reservations” and squarely into “I am getting the actual f*** out of this cesspit at the first opportunity, because literally anything would be better than working with not just those sadists, but people *with power over me* who don’t see anything wrong with it or don’t have the spine to put a stop to it.”

        And in the interim, I would borderline refuse to work with those people. Icily civil and helping only when directly ordered to by someone I can’t push back against.

      2. Akcipitrokulo*

        If this happened in my workplace and they weren’t at least disciplined and made to apologise publically… I’d be leaving. This is so much of a red line.

        1. Q*

          Well, they can’t apologize if the victim won’t show up and won’t even answer phone calls (not that I would…or think she should…)

          1. Ego Chamber*

            A public apology–at least in the corporate sense—isn’t meant for the person you’re ostensibly apologizing to. It’s an apology to the entire company, because whatever was done was so wrong, you owe everyone an apology if you hope to continue working with any of them. (Decent companies will mandate a company-wide apology in addition to (not instead of) a personal one, if such a thing is necessary.)

            1. ThatAspie*

              I made a public apology in high school once, but it was my choice to do it, and I did it because I felt really guilty for having done something wrong that impacted everyone around me (and embarrassed because of why I did the wrong thing – I thought my phone was stolen, but it had just fallen behind a cart in the art room.) So I made a sign and got permission to put it on a bulletin board saying how sorry I was. But that’s different from a forced public apology at a workplace for something like this.

          2. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

            It’s not the victims job to hear (in this case, an, I’m sure, insincere) apology from her tormentors. And saying a half-assed “sorry” does not make this level of bullying even remotely okay.

    5. Let's Sidebar*

      Seriously. What is the thinking behind the person with the authority to fire them not doing so? These people lied about company money, assumedly on company time and in the office, using an elaborate setup with actors, in order to upset a new employee to the point of VOMITING.
      I hope that woman is not responding by recommendation of a lawyer who is suing the pants of that place.

        1. Fact & Fiction*

          I parar this as she hopes the reason the woman isn’t replying is because her attorney told her not to.

      1. Former Hoosier*

        I am not sure what someone could over as being jerks and bullies at work is not illegal. However, I completely agree that this is more than just dispicable. It was inhumane.

        1. ThatAspie*

          Impersonating a police officer, intentional infliction of emotional harm, something involving infliction of physical harm (they made her puke), and slander come to mind, but IANAL, nor am I a judge, nor am I any other type of legal expert – I’m just a very well-educated layperson.

    6. Snark*

      And, just to expand on my own comment, OP….this is one worth burning capital over. Like, go to whoever can fire them and beg them to do it. Honestly, if they don’t want to, this is something I’d quit in protest over. It’s that big a deal.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        +1 on burning capital.
        Quitting, not so much, but job hunting if they aren’t fired, yes totally. And sending a personal letter offering to be a reference to the victim.

        1. Snark*

          That’s what I was going for, not just quitting on the spot. But yeah, if they’re not willing to fire people over this, they are a bad, toxic employer and you need to follow the prankee out the door as soon as feasible.

        2. Allypopx*

          Absolutely this. If the only thing you accomplish at this company from here on out is getting these jerks fired, that’s worth it.

      2. LKW*

        Agreed. If the person preventing discipline/firing is a mid-level manager – go above. Go right to the top. If there is any policy about respect for people – this cross that line so unequivocally that those responsible and those who are protecting them would likely be fired.

    7. SQL Coder Cat*

      As usual Snark, you have summed up my feelings precisely. I mean, there’s clueless, there’s so clueless about other people’s emotions that you could think this was funny for the five seconds it took you to realize how horrible this would be, and then there’s these people.

    8. Interviewer*

      Impersonating a police officer is a Class A misdemeanor in my state. In some states it’s felony. Either way, the fake officer could be subject to fines, jail time, or both. Wonder if your team member’s wife has some spare time, a lot of cash and a good lawyer? Because your former employee has at least 2 of those things.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        But the employee can’t prosecute anyone for impersonation of an officer. All she can do is make police report, but most jurisdictions I know would not prosecute someone for this.

        1. Onyx*

          May I ask what situations you’re basing that on?

          I doubt most jurisdictions would procecute for harmlessly dressing as a police officer, like a party costume or a play. But actually claiming to be a police officer and using that claimed authority to convince someone that they’re being arrested for a serious crime? That seems like exactly what that law was made to prevent, and I would hope the police would be motivated to pursue that. Even if only for their own safety, to ensure that real arrests are taken seriously without people reacting on the assumption (or credibly claiming to believe) that the “police” may be fake.

          Maybe that’s naive, especially in jurisdictions where the police already have their hands full with serious crimes, but this case of impersonation doesn’t sound trivial.

          1. Justme*

            The employee cannot prosecute because the employee isn’t the State. Criminal charges are filed by the State, civil by a person. Employee can sue the pants off the awful place but cannot do anything other than reporting that someone impersonated a police officer.

            1. Snark*

              But one can, however, file a police report, which could trigger an investigation and the eventual filing of criminal charges.

              1. Sarah M*

                You’re probably right, Princess CBH. But I would still file the report.

                Also, OP: you *really* need to take this as far up the chain as it takes. These two need to be fired, asap.

            2. Wintermute*

              this is a pet peeve of mine, so please forgive me. There’s nothing to sue over here. Maybe financial damage from quitting short-notice but there are a number of ready-made defenses for this. With a few very, very narrow exceptions you need to show actual monetary damages in order to sue, general hurt feelings, suffering and inconvenience are not legally actionable. In this case it’s egregious in interpersonal terms, but not significant in legal terms, most likely.

          2. Magenta Sky*

            That’s going to vary by where you are, and probably by the detective who takes the report. And how busy they are this week, and whether or not they’re having a bad day.

            But it’s certainly worth filing a report.

            And, correct me if I’m wrong, if one witnesses a crime, one does not need to be the victim to file such a report. The letter writer could do so as well. (I wouldn’t while still working there, without my own boss knowing I was doing so.)

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I know what happened sounds absolutely awful, and I think what these employees did is abjectly horrible.

            But in my experience (in several states/counties of varying population densities and political leanings), DAs do not have the time or resources to prosecute someone for impersonation of the type that OP described. When they prosecute for impersonation, it’s usually because someone obtained benefits they weren’t eligible to receive, attempted to arrest or otherwise search a person’s property (showing up to be “present” for an “arrest” is usually not enough until you actually “seize” the person), or attempted to deploy the authority vested in police to exert power over another person / commit another crime. The last person I saw prosecuted for impersonation claimed to be a Coast Guard officer, interdicted and commandeered a private boat, placed everyone on the boat under “arrest” with handcuffs, etc., searched the boat, displayed a false warrant, and turned a gun on people during his threats to arrest them.

            1. Annonymouse*

              I think the only reason they didn’t seize the employee is because of them mentioning their sick mother.

              If they hadn’t I can honestly see them marching them out to the car, driving to the station before going “Surpirse! It’s a joke!” and driving back to work.

            2. sstabeler*

              you might be right, but the way I read it, the fake police officer made the victim believe that were actually under arrest- for instance, it sounds like the victim felt they had to ask permission to make a call to arrange for someone to look after her sick mother. That, to me, makes me think that it does actually fall under “attempt to exert power over another person”- they functionally attempted to perform the arrest.

              I don’t disagree it might depend on the DA though.

        2. Nea*

          Thing is, it wasn’t just impersonating an officer, it was impersonating an officer while in the commission of other crimes, such as slander (claiming employee is a thief in front of co-workers), conspiracy (they worked together on this in order to get the wife in on the gag, the wife into the building, the wife into uniform) and if the wife actually put handcuffs on the employee or tried to take her anywhere, kidnapping.

          I’m with Interviewer. The employees may think they’ve just committed a prank gone wrong, but Wife committed an actual crime and I think this should be pointed out to her. Preferably by a real cop, but at least by someone with the phone number of the police station and their hand on the phone.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            Slander is not a crime in the United States (it is, apparently, in some countries). (And there’s a distinction between handcuffing someone in place, and trying to force them to go somewhere else. The former is, at worst, unlawful imprisonment, usually a misdemeanor, the latter is kidnapping, almost always a felony. Either way, the plea bargain would likely be for some minor form of assault.)

            1. ThatAspie*

              Slander is actually a crime in the U.S., though. Source: middle school social studies class.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            From what we’ve been told, no other crimes were committed.

            I think folks are really reaching for a legal solution because what they did was awful, and I think most of us feel the “pranksters” should be punished. But this is really not what the legal system is built for.

        3. Sarah M*

          You’re probably right, Princess CBH. But I would still file the report.

          Also, OP: you *really* need to take this as far up the chain as it takes. These two need to be fired, asap.

          1. Gadfly*

            At the least point out that, even if it isn’t perused, they have opened up the possibility of legal action against the company depending on if the employee wanted to include the company in whatever lawsuits she could conceivably file for the company not taking appropriate action against them.

            They might be lucky and nothing happens this time and non of these people are this dumb ever again. But how much do you want to bet on that when they have proven bad judgement?

        4. Not So NewReader*

          I would add one more angle. It depends on what the wife does for a living. If she works in the field of law it might be interesting to keep pursuing this point. While charges may not stick, her employer may learn something about the woman’s judgement and her priorities. That might be enough right there to drive home the point that this was way beyond the pale.

          1. lurker bee*

            The point about the cop impersonator’s day job is a good one. If she is in an allied field, her employer or professional/accrediting board might appreciate being alerted to her unprofessional choices.

    9. Dust Bunny*

      Amen. I mean, this isn’t just poor judgment, this is BREATHTAKINGLY poor judgment.

      There are some pranks that could go either way: They might be funny unless the target is more sensitive than most of us.

      This is not one of them. This is so far over the line . . .

      1. Yada Yada Yada*

        Agreed! This reminds me of a Michael Scott prank. As such, maybe the employees need a Dunder Mifflin-style punishment. Remember when Michael bent his intern nephew over a desk and spanked him? “YOU…NEED… TO BE…MORE…PROFESSIONAL!” Google this scene for a good laugh

      1. Chris*

        Yes. Impersonating a police officer is a crime. This whole thing went beyond bad judgement.

    10. Cranky Dude*

      The OP says s/he is the manager here. That the folks who did this report to her/him. I don’t understand why they can’t be fired immediately. (And out of a cannon sounds pretty good to me.)

      1. Gadfly*

        Not all managers have the ability to hire/fire. Simple as that. Some companies don’t even let VPs do it.

  1. Poohbear McGriddles*

    My coworkers have a habit of leaving creative descriptions on the board outside my office of where I’m at when I’m out, such as “teaching goat yoga” or “swimming with the sharks in New Zealand”. That’s funny. Making someone think they’re about to be arrested is not funny.

    1. starsaphire*

      Right?! Office pranks should be like “tin-foiling your desk while you’re on vacation” or “filling your cube with balloons.”

      The situation in the OP isn’t an “office prank.” This is terrorizing.

        1. Snark*

          I rickrolled an auditorium filled with 350 college freshmen, subbing for a professor when he was sick. “This video really sums up this whole concept, and Dr. Fergus said there’d be a question about it on the exam, so wake up! Everybody pay attention! Exam’s next week!”

          Every eye in the place snaps open. Pens poised. Attention razor-sharp.


          /mike drop

          1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

            Brilliant! I rickrolled a very nervous A-level revision group last year, because they were so busy stressing about exams they couldn’t focus on revising for them. It definitely broke the ice in the room and the session was more productive afterwards.

          2. K, Esq.*

            We rickrolled a good friend at her wedding. Eight of us got up one by one with a line of the song, then the DJ played it. It was amazing.

            1. Snark*

              Oh, this’d be great, like right at the tail end of a toast. “Fergus, I hope that every day of your lives together, you can look at her, and say……..NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP NEVER GONNA LET YOU DOWN”

              And then do the dance. It’d slay.

              1. K, Esq.*

                That’s how we did it – he ended the toast citing a quote from a “great poet.” The bride still hasn’t come up with anything near as epic as the groom.

          3. Kelsi*

            My best friend rickrolled another mutual friend–we’ll call him John–at her wedding reception.

            John had been in a long game of one-upmanship rickrolling with other folks in our hobby group, always funny and well-executed. John is also in a band, who had recently released a CD.

            She had the DJ announce that they were now going to play a song by one of the guests at this very wedding! and start playing one of John’s band’s more danceable songs. Gave everyone just enough time to get excited….and then cut into Never Gonna Give You Up.

        2. Two-Time College Dropout*

          Sometimes I’ll see a link that I’m so sure will be a Rickroll that I’m a little disappointed when it isn’t! I love getting Rickrolled because it’s like an anti-prank– ha ha, I tricked you into listening to an upbeat song about how I’ll always be there for you!

          1. Bryce*

            Yeah, it’s a good song. So much better than back when screamers were the vogue thing to spring on people.

      1. Else*

        My brother did the thing with the balloons to his buddy’s office when the friend was away being hooded for his PhD, and then covered his desk with a candy that referred to his dissertation topic. He came home to a flood of congratulatory balloons (and the subsequent cleanup) and then a present, not meanness.

        1. seejay*

          If you filled my office with balloons, I’d have a panic/asthma attack. :(

          (ie, make sure you know your coworkers phobias beforehand too. Fortunately my coworkers do know mine so they know bringing balloons near me is a big fat no-no or else I have a meltdown)

          1. Else*

            The new doc is actually his best friend from college, and they used to live together – I’d assume that he’d know if there was an actual phobia/allergy. They filmed it and he was clearly both amused and instantly able to identify the perpetrator. :) My brother would never have filled his office with something actually bad for him, and I doubt he’d have done it at all if he hadn’t known for SURE that it would be welcome.

          2. Becky*

            If you filled my office with latex balloons or anyone’s office in my vicinity or possibly the building I would probably die. I am deathly allergic to latex.
            If they were mylar or plastic balloons it would be fine.

            1. JessaB*

              Yeh in general just because latex allergies are SO common, I’d steer clear of them. They make balloons in so many other materials now.

        2. Turquoisecow*

          We tried filling a coworker’s office with balloons when he was out. (I forget if something congratulations worthy happened while he was out or we were just bored – this was as the company was winding down operations, so we were definitely bored). However, we got lazy about it, because filling an office with balloons takes a LOT of balloons. So we just stuffed a dozen or so beneath his desk, so everything would look normal until he went to sit at his chair.

          I wasn’t there when he came in (He was one of those people who got in to work crazy early) but I heard from others it was amusing. When I came in, most of the balloons had been transferred to the office of the guy who masterminded the plan. (And there was no question of who that was)

          1. Jaydee*

            This happened similarly at my office too. It takes a *LOT* of balloons to fill an office. Kudos to anyone who can pull that off. We managed to cram a dozen or two under the person’s desk and then the balloons gradually made their way throughout the office over the next week or so. You never knew when you would come to work and find a half-deflated balloon on your keyboard or in your desk drawer or wherever.

            1. Indoor Cat*

              This reminds me of when I was in college, and my friends wanted to prank my roommate by filling our dorm up with ballpit balls (I think this is something someone else did online; maybe on Instagram?), but when we took the measurements of the room, the cost to fill it with ballpit balls was, like, $600. So, prank was a no-go. :(

              So I am actually pretty impressed when people take the time / resources to execute an actually funny prank. My favorite elaborate prank videos are a YouTube group called Improv Everywhere. One prank was staged at Abercrombie & Fitch in Manhattan, the one with a chiseled topless male model in the store window: the male pranksters, who were definitely *not* models, went topless around the store saying Abercrombie had sponsored a “Beauty In All Sizes” day, and they made up characters, saying they were plus size models or short guy models. It could’ve been too weird, but the customers all thought it was great, and many of them took selfies with the “models” (the pranksters) and congratulated them until the store manager came out and said they had to put shirts on.

              1. JessaB*

                Best prank I ever saw was on a show about an ice sculpture company. As a retirement thing for a leaving exec (I think he’d been an owner,) they replicated his entire office down to the computer keyboard and his mug and stapler and all of it, in ice sculpture, even the calculator on the desk and the desk and chair. It was an incredibly detailled work of art and when the guy turned on the lights it was beautiful.

      2. Midge*

        I’m not even a fan of those sorts of pranks. Anything that leaves the prankster(s) looking on and laughing while the person being pranked has to clean up after their shenanigans is not fun or funny in my book. Even if the pranksters clean up their mess, you’re still inconvenienced while you wait for them to un-tin foil your desk or pop all the balloons. Unless you for sure know that someone is into it, these don’t meet the bar of being fun for everyone.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            My standard is it’s okay to foil someone’s desk (or cover everything they own in a fine layer of post-it notes, or fill their office with balloons, or whatever else) if you also clean it up. If they have to clean it up that’s rude.

            I hate pranks but I’m okay with the extremely gentle, harmless sort. One office where I worked had a set of giant (seriously these suckers were like 12 inches in diameter EACH) googly eyes that wandered the office. Every week or two the googly eyes would be in a new and surprising location. The side of the cube you see right when you come out of the stairwell. The director’s door. The back of a sofa.

            I have been known to remind people to lock their laptop when they step away by when they forget, sneaking over and changing their desktop wallpaper to something I think they will hate. Frequently they have 72 windows open and don’t notice until 40 minutes later that their background is now a Tiger Beat photo of One Direction. I did once change someone’s background to Strawberry Shortcake and he decided he loved it and kept it forever.

            1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

              At a previous job a co-worker and I were scheduled to work the late shift the night before April Fools day. We were both brand new to the team and decided to put a piece of tape on the bottom of everyone’s mouse. (They were the old roller ball kind). The next day we came in and those who had gotten there before us had assumed the prank was done by a specific person who was a known jokester. They decorated his desk with streamers and post-its. Co-worker and I were horrified and said nothing at first. He came in, saw his desk, denied the prank (his usual deal) and just sort of smiled and sat down. Later in the day co-worker and I finally admitted to the prank. Everyone laughed. I offered to help clean the guy’s desk and apologized for getting him in trouble. He laughed “No worries. I deserved this. They still haven’t figured out who has been stealing the post it notes” at which point he unlocked and opened his desk drawer which was filled nearly to the top with post its. He leaned over and whispered “Next week they all come back!” He was that kind of prankster. :) Silly, harmless, a little weird. He’d even written the intials of the person whose desk he’d stolen the post-its from so he could put them back on the right desk.

              1. Sam*

                I’m kind of impressed by his foresight, tbh. Making sure you prank people with their own post-its is next-level.

            2. Justme*

              I most definitely changed my (male) boss’s background to bunnies. I’m not sure that he knows I was the one who did it, and this was almost 2 years ago.

              1. Hills to Die on*

                That’s a good one too. Hide the keyboard for a couple of minutes or unplug the mouse. Those have mostly been okay. There are others that are more intense but it was a case of know your audience. Poured a small amount of water on coworker’s seat or tape the inside of their straw so they can’t drink. Stole a cell phone and hid it where the person could hear it ringing. And that was with well-known pranksters who we’re close friends and knew each other well during a full-blown prank ‘war’.

                1. TootsNYC*

                  I got a press kit with one of those light-sensitive/motion-activated recording devices; this one played some opera piece when you opened the big box with the jars of spaghetti sauce in it.

                  I hid it in my direct report’s desk drawer. Six days later she finally opened it.

              2. Basically Useless*

                I used to sneak up to my boss’s computer at night and change his background from the Ohio State Buckeyes football team to Bucky Badger. Another time when he was on vacation I changed his generic pushpins to University of Wisconsin W pushpins. He still has them on his bulletin board.

              3. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

                I changed my Dad’s cell phone ring to the Smurfs theme song. My Dad is not phone savvy and had no idea how to change it, so for years he was stuck with this goofy MIDI-style song.

                Alas he put that phone through the washing machine and the new one only has boring tunes on it.

            3. Isben Takes Tea*

              And that’s interesting, because I love the googly eyes but would have SERIOUS issues with anyone touching my computer, even for a “harmless” change. For me, that’s a huge boundary cross, and I’d have serious concerns. But that proves the point that you really have to know the prankee!

              1. Mary*

                I’ve a few friends who have worked in tech companies where changing people’s backgrounds / turning their display upside-down / changing their keyboard language was strongly encouraged by the management, because stepping away from your computer without locking your computer was a major no-no and colleagues doing harmless-but-annoying things was a great way of getting everyone to remember to lock.

                1. Akcipitrokulo*

                  Yep. Favourite if you have time…

                  Minimise everything
                  Take screeenshot
                  Put all desktop stuff in one folder
                  Set desktop wallpaper to screenshot

                  Or send IT an email from securityless colleague offering to buy everyone cake. A manager “sent” one of those once and he figured was fair dos … he’d left his pc unlocked.

                2. SarahKay*

                  Yep, I work in finance/accounting, so locking computers is necessary and required. A colleague and I used to do that sort of thing to each other on the (increasingly rare over time!) occasions that one of us left our computer unlocked.

                3. Windchime*

                  We have a similar office prank. Stepping away without locking your workstation is a potential breach of confidentiality. So on our team, if a coworker “Fred” leaves his workstation unlocked, someone will send an email from that workstation saying something like, “My name is Fred and I left my workstation unlocked. I’ll be bringing treats for the team next week!”.

                4. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

                  This is known as “caking” in our office. if you leave your PC unlocked when you step away, you come back to a new Word document with “Now Buy The Team Cakes!” in size 36pt font.
                  There’s only 4 people in the team, and the canteen provides yummy cakes, but you only have to fork out a couple of times before you learn.

                5. SRB*

                  Man I learned that in college freshman year, always lock your laptop. Our friend group had a habit of changing Facebook statuses if you didn’t. Some got mean but my signature was always “Sansa Stark… is a duck. Quack.”

                  Though now that I think about it, I feel like I have to say that this was long before the duck club letter!!! ;)

                6. JulieBulie*

                  I have a friend who used to work in IT. She once changed someone’s background because they had a habit of walking away from an unlocked computer. She was fired for that.

                  So, again… know your audience. Some of the non-IT employees in that place weren’t especially computer literate, and seemed to believe that all IT people are basically evil hackers who shouldn’t be allowed to mess with someone’s computer without authorization and supervision because who knows what other dastardly things they did while they were changing the wallpaper.

                  There are some obvious gaps in that logic, but that place was a bubbling cauldron of dysfunction. My friend sued them for firing her, and she won. I don’t remember why, though. There is a lot more to that story, and I never heard all of it, but I do remember that there were a LOT of lawsuits. The dysfunction there was bad enough to make the (local) newspaper, and the head honcho eventually resigned in disgrace.

                7. Anonicat*

                  A friend in IT works in a place like this. Management also reminds them not to click dodgy links by setting up a phishing-type email address and sending everyone a link that turns your speakers up to full and Rickrolls you while the exit button moves at random around the screen.

              2. LizM*

                In my office, the prankster could get in serious trouble. Yes, you should lock your computer when you leave, but our code of conduct also states that you can’t be logged in under another person’s log in. Both people would get a talking to if management found out.

            4. Blue Anne*

              Yeah, when I worked for a Big 4 firm we were required to lock our laptops when we stepped away from them. If you didn’t, you were likely to come back to a laptop with a rotated display. It was funny, it taught us to remember, and everyone learned the keyboard shortcut pretty quickly.

            5. Agatha_31*

              I do the “LOCK YER DAMN STATION!” pranks as well! I’ve not just changed desktops. Depending on how much time I have I could do one or more of the following: switch mouse buttons, speed up or slow down mouse movement/click speed, add mouse trail, rotate desktop, change icon size (it’s really really fun to do this one because if you make it just the right size adjustment, they don’t notice the change but also can’t figure out why they keep clicking in the wrong place for all their icons), screenshot their desktop and make it their wallpaper and hide the icons (again, LOTS of fun to watch this one). It takes them a couple minutes to fix what I did, but a) security really is an issue in our job and they SHOULD be locking their stations when they walk away, b) it’s a good way to teach them some of the background workings of Windows anyway, and c) if they’re going to treat me like a nag when I just *tell* them to lock their stations (and they do, rolling their eyes and acting like I’m making a big deal out of nothing) then you’re damn right I’m going to at least get some amusement out of their refusal to follow one of the most basic security rules.

              A funner one: I once spent three hours after work covering various items on two co-workers’ desks with sticky googly eyes. Years later, there are still a few items that have eyeballs on them. I was careful to do this to a) the two co-workers who were friends of mine and whose sense of humor I knew very well and b) in ways that didn’t interfere with their work, and weren’t visible to the public. A couple years later and each of them still has a couple items with eyeballs on. It’s a small source of private amusement for all of us.

              Our office has people who’ve mostly been here for years, we’re all fairly comfortable with each other and know each others’ boundaries. I cannot imagine *any* of us going as far as the people in OP’s story did, even to each other. That wasn’t funny, that was frigging psychological torture, and using the word ‘prank’ to describe it doesn’t change what it was and what it did to that poor employee.

              1. Helena*

                My husband’s small software company have bluetooth keyboards. The owner went off to lunch leaving his workstation unlocked, and the CTO untethered the keyboard, and tethered his own instead.

                Then when owner came back, CTO watched when he started typing, and typed gibberish instead. Took quite a while for owner to work out what had happened – he tried changing the language, tried different fonts, turning his (untethered) keyboard off and on… apparently very funny to watch.

            6. oranges & lemons*

              Yeah, I think it’s a bit of a language failure that the word “prank” is used for this and also for the type of thing described in the letter. In my mind, changing desktop backgrounds or googly eyeing office equipment is a prank. Trying to terrify your coworker is just bullying.

            7. Drew*

              I once changed a coworker’s error beep to a clip of Locutus saying “A futile maneuver.” Said coworker was a TNG fan and I thought he’d get a kick out of it. What I did not stop to think about is how poor a typist he was and how often he miskeyed in a way that generated the error beep.

              After a couple of minutes of “A futile A fu A futile maneu A futile maneuver,” I took pity on him and changed it back.

        1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          I am not a fan of pranks in general, and I hate being the center of attention, but when I worked in a warehouse, I knew I had been accepted when the warehouse guys saran wrapped my car. It was like two strips of the long industrial stuff around (not layers and layers) and they had also thrown a handful of packing peanuts on the driver’s seat as a nod to filling the car with them (They’d done those pranks to each other before, but I was a lot younger and female so they didn’t go all out). I liked it because it did mean they accepted me as part of “the group”, but in general I hate pranks and think April Fools should die in a fire.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            I gently explained to my new cube mate that I didn’t like them, and he said, ok, thanks for letting me know, and stopped. I love so much working with adults. I’m really reluctant to leave my company because I can’t imagine this kind of sh*t happening here.

            1. Fuzzy*

              Oh god for a moment I thought you meant you told your new cube mate that you didn’t like your new cube mate, and I was very sad.

          2. TiffIf*

            At a previous job there were two co-workers who liked to prank each other (usually harmless desk stuff) but even that, I told them straight up “Do not include me in your pranks.” They respected it completely.

            1. Ramblin' Ma'am*

              Yeah , I had some old coworkers who loved pranking each other. I asked them to please never prank me. Since I never participated in pranking any of them, they gladly left me out. If I had wanted to take part in pranking others but wasn’t cool with it myself, that would have been different.

        2. all aboard the anon train*

          Yeah, agreed. I once had a coworker who stuck post-it notes over ever square inch of another coworker’s computer and cubicle, and it took my coworker an hour to clear it all off, and that was with me helping her. It was during a week where the prankster knew we were all busy and stressed and thought it would lighten the mood, but it just made us more stressed because we lost an hour of time we could have been working towards our deadline.

          Those types of pranks may seem harmless, but they’re still annoying and not fun to the person who has to clean it all up. I hate being the center of attention, so I’d be really embarrassed even at such a harmless prank.

          1. Observer*

            The prankster SHOULD have helped you guys clean this up. But, to Alison’s point, the key difference here is that it’s easy to see how this was a fairly innocent misjudgement. Yes, a misjudgement and they should have realized. But not INTENDED to make someone upset. These folks make elaborate efforts to scare someone sill. And their claim that it was meant to be “hilarious not mean” is clearly a lie – otherwise they would have stopped the second she started crying, and not waited till she was about to blow the whistle on them.

            1. all aboard the anon train*

              I’m not trying to compare this situation to the OP’s because there’s a world of difference, but rather point out that even seemingly innocent pranks aren’t always harmless or innocent misjudgments.

              If you want to lighten someone’s stress, wouldn’t you think to bring them a treat or ask if there’s anything they can help with rather than inconvenience them with a physical prank? Obviously it’s nothing compared to making an effort to terrorize someone as a prank, but it still says a lot about a person if their first reaction to lowering someone’s stress is to complicate their workflow needlessly. If you’re rushing to reach a deadline, you don’t block access to someone’s computer and say, “Surprise! Isn’t it funny that you have to remove all this junk before you can get to work and meet your deadline??” That’s just making them more stressed, and most reasonable people would realize that.

        3. Anon today...and tomorrow*

          I worked with a woman who was a known germaphobe. She went out on leave for a medical issue and when she came back people saran wrapped her office. They tried spinning it as “we sealed it for your protection.” She was NOT happy because she could only see that people handled her stuff. She actually went home early on her first day back because of it.

          1. JulieBulie*

            So they “welcomed” her back to the office by… mocking her for wanting to avoid germs. Even though she’d just been out on medical leave.

            I would have gone home too. What the hell is wrong with people?

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              Exactly. That “prank” was almost as bad as the one in the letter. Sheesh. I have severe OCD, and contamination is one of my biggest fears. If someone did this to me, I’d be highly upset.

        4. Hush42*

          Yeah I would be annoyed if I had to lose time to clean up a mess due to someone else’s prank. I work at a family owned company and two of the owner’s daughters work for the company one in HR and one in sales. Whenever the sister in sales goes to the HR sisters office she sneaks something out of the office (like a knick-knack- not like private paperwork) and then waits to see how much of her sisters stuff she can accrue at her desk before her sister notices and comes looking for it. As far as I know that’s the only prank that really gets pulled around here.

        5. klew*

          At one of my prior jobs a co-worker thought it would be funny to move all my stuff (stapler, tape dispenser, mug with pens, personal junk…) to another desk while I was on vacation. I had been there for about 6 years at that point so I had a lot of junk in my desk including tampons, a fork and spoon and other assorted stuff.

          So first day back not only do I have to catch up, I have to move ALL MY STUFF BACK TO MY DESK. And I was extra angry that she had placed my personal items in a paper box lid and just had it sitting on top of the “new” desk.

          It was not a good day for me and I made sure it was definitely not a good day for her.

      3. Annette*

        My former assistant toilet-papered my office when I was off for a day. I have to say, I did not find it funny. It was a time when I was very stressed at work, over worked and had a lot of family stress as well with a sick parent.

        I know he meant it as a gesture to cheer me up, but for me it was just one more problem that someone else caused that I had to clean up. It would’ve cheered me up much more if he had managed to be a more efficient and exemplary worker, for instance, rather than wasting brain and work time on screwing around

        1. Tiny Soprano*

          Yeah if I was going to go down the prank path to cheer someone up I think it’d be more along the lines of hiding sweets in various locations around their desk.

          1. Noobtastic*

            Aww! That’s an adorable “prank,” and would be good for almost anyone.

            Unless they had an eating disorder, in which case, it might be triggering. But you could do the same with little paper flowers, or something similar.

            Even for the most sweet and caring prank, you still have to know your audience.

      4. EW*

        People at my husbands work used to booby trap various parts of desks so pennies would rain down on the person when a cabinet was open, or they knocked over a cup. It was hilarous. But even that got out of hand. The loud chshhhch sound of pennies falling happened when an exec was in the office. Everyone got a very stern talking to after that.

        The very best part of the prank is that the victim then had all the pennies to prank the next person!

        1. Judy (since 2010)*

          Back when every desk had a phone book (and dinosaurs roamed the earth), one of my co-workers was very particular about his phone book. It had to be placed HERE on his desk, THIS way exactly. One year he was on vacation the week that the new phone books were distributed, so he came back to several hundred old phone books covering his desk..

          We all laughed. We then helped him move them to the recycling area.

          1. TootsNYC*

            The guy who currently works for me gets really upset when the person who has to use his desk for after-hours work doesn’t put everything back the way he had it.

            I personally think he takes it a LITTLE bit too far, but OK, I’ll respect his wishes. So we take a photograph of it.

            and then one day we were putting stuff back, and we got silly. So we went through his whole desk, and his bulletin board, tidying. We straightened every single piece of paper on the bulletin board, shifting it just the tiniest bit so all the spacing was perfectly equal and aligned.

            We lined his stapler up at a 90-degree angle; put his several rubber stamps at perfect 90 degrees and evenly spaced, and centered. Lined all his reference books up to be perfectly aligned at the front edges. That sort of thing.

            Very subtle. So subtle that he didn’t notice.
            Oh well–we had a lot of fun doing it. WE thought we were hysterical.

      5. JoAnna*

        A few days ago, some of my co-workers wrapped up all of my other co-worker’s desk items (monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc. in Christmas wrapping paper after he’d gone home for the day. That was funny and we all had a good laugh, including the “victim,” when he came in the next morning.

        This prank was not funny.

        1. CMF*

          We once took a screenshot of our boss’s desktop, hid his desktop shortcuts (just the standard stuff on Windows XP and the few programs we used for work, so it was easy to replace), and made it his background.

          It took him at least 20 minutes to figure out why he couldn’t open Internet Explorer. “Is anyone else’s computer frozen? Anyone?”

        2. Gadfly*

          We did that for my boss’s birthday. But in pricessy-themed paper. And we added things like a little kid’s plastic sparkly tiara. Boss had a goth-like style, was rather anti pink. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her laugh so hard and her monitor wore the tiara for years.

      6. blackcat*

        Most successful prank I have been a part of: replacing all of a teacher’s wall art with giant versions of the diagrams he used in teaching all of the time (he had a very notable style and often drew the exact. same. flow chart thingy).

        Wall art was neatly stacked on the side. We offered to put it back up, but he decided to keep our work. After he finally stopped laughing. He thought it was funnier than we did! That’s a prank win: the target is more entertained than the pranksters.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          My AP Lit teacher hung prints of famous artwork from each region/period we were studying in the classroom; as a prank, we stuck post-it notes with goofy faces over every face in every painting. The total was maybe 25-30 post-it notes, easily cleaned up, and she laughed herself silly.

          1. Tiny Soprano*

            Oh that reminds me of my highschool biology class, where we had one of those posters illustrating the muscles of the body (so like a front and back view of a skinless dude, basically) and my friend and I thought he looked cold so we made him a pirate outfit. Eventually other classes started putting in requests for his dress-ups (I think he even had a rather risque bustier at one point!). It continued until our rather humourless year 12 teacher threw him out. :(

            1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

              I had a class where the teacher was really uptight and wanted us to sit in exact alphabetical order. He’d get really out of whack if if an LA sat behind an LO. Towards the end of the year we decided to prank him and sat in exact “reverse” alphabetical order. He walked in the class, saw M. Zildjian sitting where M. Anastasia normally sat, scanned the class quickly, laughed and said “Well done…but seriously, back to your seats! This is driving me nuts!” We all got back to our regular seats but there was a lot of giggling.

        2. klew*

          Most harmless and frequent prank at one of my jobs was taping a small piece of paper over the laser on the bottom of someone’s mouse.

          At this same place on of the junior partners had a giant stuff snake (toy not taxidermy stuffed) that would be placed in the office of the person on his team that left first each day. We would try to put it where it wouldn’t be seen right off. Once when I got it they had it hanging out of the ac vent in my office. This was a fun thing that went on for about a year even though one drama queen once screamed when she saw it in her office. This think did not look real AT ALL so there was no way she was actually scared. She was just that kind of person.

          1. whimbrel*

            When I was a student I worked in a historic townsite one summer that had several life-size installations around town. Our office was about half a dozen people, and two of us were summer students. One of the installations was to be set up with a foam mannequin dressed up in old-timey clothes. So our boss ordered the mannequin, and when it arrived it spent a week or so before the installation was ready showing up in unexpected places. I was the first one in the office in the mornings, so my boss got me with it by putting it in a computer chair at the end of the day and sitting the chair right in front of the door. I got one of my coworkers by putting it in the bathroom while everyone else was out at lunch. Someone else put it in my boss’s chair in her office. Etc etc over the course of about a week, and then the installation was ready and the mannequin went to its proper place.

            It was harmless and everyone got a laugh out of it. The situation described by the OP makes my skin crawl. :/

          2. ZK*

            My mother has a major snake phobia. Someone once gave me a huge fluffy snake toy. It looked nothing like a snake. It still sent my mother in to screams. Phobias aren’t rational.

          3. all aboard the anon train*

            Uhhh drama queen may be a little harsh. I have an extreme phobia of snakes. I can’t even stand people talking about them. It makes my skin crawl. Even the sight of a harmless plush snake toy hanging from a ceiling would make me shriek and startle me for a moment. Sure, afterwards I would be okay, but in the moment? I’d have a flight or fight reaction because my brain processes “snake” and I lose all rational thought.

            People tend to think reactions to phobias are overly dramatic. They’re not rational sometimes, and it’s not fair to roll your eyes and assume someone can’t really be startled or scared.

            1. Agatha_31*

              Yeah, snake fear is real enough that this is one I again feel is over the line unless you *already know the reaction you’ll get*. My mother has a *terrible* fear of snakes. Someone did something like this to her ONCE (only they threw it at her without warning) and she burst into tears. That person IMMEDIATELY apologized all over themselves and understood that they had made a bad judgement and that it’s not a ‘joke’ when you’ve just made someone unhappy. Making yourself ‘right’ in the aftermath by deciding that their reaction is ‘wrong’, you’re just proving that it’s not an ‘all in good fun’ thing, it’s an ‘all for my fun and anybody who ruins it is going to get called names’ thing. NOT IN GOOD FUN.

              1. all aboard the anon train*

                I feel like people who don’t have phobias don’t always understand that the smallest thing can make you panic. And then when they do something they think is a joke or harmless and you react poorly, you’re called a wet blanket or a drama queen and made to look like the one at fault for not understanding a “joke”.

                1. JessaB*

                  Exactly. People without phobias do not get the fact that it’s not just being scared. It’s a physical reaction and it can trigger worse reactions. Some people get heart palpitations, some have trouble breathing. You really cannot function when you’re in the middle of a panic attack. And they are NOT rational. You can sit there and go “this thing is not scary,” all day, and you’ll still freak out. You can’t control it and you can’t rationalise your way out of it even while your brain is TELLING you that there’s nothing to worry about.

                2. Agatha_31*

                  I have a spider thing. And I wouldn’t even call what I’ve got a ‘phobia’ – I *can* deal with killing them myself if I really have to, but I’m just scared of them, hate them, don’t want them anywhere near me. I even squirm and look away when I see spiders on my monitor. If I have a ‘spider scare’, I can count on being jumpy at *least* the rest of that day, and sometimes, e.g. if it’s like “there’s a spider in my house and it disappeared and ohgodwhereisitwhereisitwhereisit”, then it can last days. Anything’s gonna set me off. Fuzzy thing spotted on the floor out of the corner of my eye, a couple of dead twigs sitting on the ground in a way that makes it look like little legs, ANY of those many vaguely spider-sized marks on the walls THAT HAVE BEEN THERE SINCE I MOVED IN… I’m going to at LEAST turn my head quickly, if not jump and make an undignified squealing sound. I am embarrassed by this reaction in my own home with nobody else around. I can’t imagine adding “had that reaction and it was someone else’s fault it happened and they decided to make fun of me for it” to that problem. Frankly, I’d be pissed.

          4. Kelsi*

            This, to me, is the problem with pranks in the workplace.

            Any time you say “Well, [Person X] didn’t like it, but that doesn’t count because [insert reason Person X was wrong]”—you’re in the wrong. Period.

            Good pranks are like good marriage proposals—you have to know the person well enough to know how they’ll react. “Who would object to this?” is not a substitute for “I know this person and I know they would not object to this.”

            Which is why my mother and the custodian at her workplace could constantly prank one another by hiding a very creepy life-size mannequin in dark corners for the other to find and it was appropriate and hilarious, but if someone ever did that to me in my workplace I would probably never speak to them again.

        3. TootsNYC*

          Once I was going out on vacation; on my desk, I had several penguin statues, etc. Someone on my team made some remark that I misheard–I thought they’d said something about “corrupting the penguins” or something, leading them astray, teaching them to misbehave. Maybe they really joked, “we should misbehave while she’s out,” I don’t remember. But I said, “Hey, don’t you teach my penguins to misbehave!” They thought my mishearing was hysterial.

          And when I came back, every single penguin had been placed somewhere int he office doing something that was against the “rules.” One of them had used the paper cutter without locking it after they were done; another was perched on an open file drawer, filing the most recent copy of something in the FRONT of the folder; another was standing on the dictionary with a pencil next to a piece of text where he had apparently correct the spelling of a word to the SECOND spelling in the dictionary.

          It was so very funny. The best ever. It was funny to me, but I also kept thinking how much fun they must have had at the end of the workday before, dreaming up all these scenarios and setting them up.

          1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

            That’s funny. It kind of reminds me of the movie Amelie where the father’s garden gnome goes missing and starts sending post cards back to him from all these places around the world. It’s very silly but creative.

      7. Magenta Sky*

        Tin-foiling a desk is only harmless if a) it’s done on the prankster’s own time, not the companies, and b) they’re prepared – on their own time – to get it cleaned up when the victim returns – quick enough to not interfere with their work, either. That sort of “prank” involves hours of time, both setting it up and taking it down.

      8. many bells down*

        Where I work, people like to photoshop the face of one of the employees, a tiny Japanese woman, onto the torsos of muscle-y action heroes and put them on the bulletin board. I don’t know how it started, but everyone thinks it’s hilarious. Including the employee.

      9. anycat*

        we pass around a can of a gross flavored soda. come back from vacation? can is on your desk. your birthday? can is wrapped up with the card.

      1. No Green No Haze*

        Yes. First easily-Googled example I found:

        In the state of New York it’s a class E felony, punishable by 1 1/3 – 4 years probation, no jail.

      2. Foreign Octopus*

        I’ve just had a quick Google so don’t take this as solid fact but it seems that it is illegal, in a number of countries, to impersonate a police office. It does say this on Wikipedia:

        “Dressing up as a police officer in costume (e.g. for Halloween), or pretending to be a police officer for the purpose of play or a harmless prank toward an acquaintance is generally not considered a crime, provided that those involved recognize the imposter is not a real police officer, and the imposter is not trying to deceive those involved into thinking he/she is. ”

        I think we all agree that this isn’t a harmless prank considering the outcome and the employee was unaware that the wife wasn’t actual a member of the force. If you’re in the United States, it’ll probably vary by state law but it might be something to bring up with the “prankster” employees as well, but check the law first.

        1. Antilles*

          It’s illegal practically everywhere in the US.
          There is a legal bar that needs to be crossed – basically in order to be impersonation, it needs to be reasonably believable (hence why Halloween costumes are fine)…but getting multiple people in on it, pretending to arrest someone, and being so convincing that she vomited out of fear almost certainly crosses that bar.

          1. RVA Cat*

            This. What the co-worker’s wife did was illegal. (Plus the amount of effort for this cruelty – could the wife maybe be the same person who dressed as “basic” co-worker *with nametag* for Halloween?! Because I don’t want to believe there are multiple people that vicious in the workforce.)

            Also, OP, I would definitely take this up the chain. The victim may not be taking calls from you, but I’m 99.9% certain she is talking to a lawyer.

        2. Poohbear McGriddles*

          Yeah, if simply wearing a fake police outfit is a crime, there are some strippers and a certain Village Person I’d like to report…

          1. Magenta Sky*

            I think the many young, shapely women in Las Vegas, who will cheerfully pose for selfies with you, are safe either way. since they’re only wearing about 10% of a police uniform. The hats are sexy, though.

            (Came to mind because I was in Vegas a couple of weeks ago.)

        3. Not So NewReader*

          This may be an inroad for discussing this with your bosses, OP, if you chose to stay at this job that is.

          I am not sure how to explain that a prank that makes people puke is not a prank to people who do not understand. While I do not mind explaining things to people, I am not sure I would be willing to go down to that remedial level on this one, I might just quit instead.

      3. Stephenie S Labovitz*

        That was my first reaction too….. If I was the subject of that ‘prank’ you bet I’d be speaking to a lawyer about emotional damages, loss of wages, and any charges possible such as impersonating an officer.

        1. Agatha_31*

          This would actually be a good reason for the employee *not* to respond to contact attempts by the business, if she’s consulted or is even thinking of consulting a lawyer and being careful about contact w/anyone at the company in the meantime. Also possibly a very VERY good argument for OP when talking to a higher up about “how should we handle this so that a) it doesn’t happen again but also b) we do not get involved in any legal action because WOW could that get ugly fast.”

      4. Anon Accountant*

        I agree. Would it have been wrong to call the non-emergency police number on the wife impersonating a police officer? I realize you think of this stuff afterwards but wow. That might have made them realize the seriousness of their disgusting, malicious “prank”.

        1. RVA Cat*

          I’m also wondering if there is security camera footage of the “prank” the victim could subpoena.

          Though knowing these jerks, they probably filmed it on their cameras and posted it on social media…

    2. EBStarr*

      Yes! I worked at a company where leaving your screen unlocked meant that you got a creative-but-work-appropriate chat status message (one of mine was “I love sports,” very tame but funny because of how false it is). Or one time I left my screen unlocked and my coworkers changed my Pandora station to music that I hated. It’s not that hard to think up those types of pranks that are clearly not going to hurt anyone!

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        At OldJob, if you left your computer unlocked, you would come back to find your display flipped upside down.

        1. Kali*

          That happened to people where I used to work; we dealt with financial data, so that was the least terrible way to realise you’d left that data unsecured.

          1. President Porpoise*

            I managed to do it accidentally the other day and could not figure out what I’d done for like half an hour of panic.

            1. JessaB*

              You know the key combination but when you do it by accident you never realise you have so you flip out. It happens to me when I accidentally put my phone in side by side (for some programmes you can run two together, great for cutting and pasting into email,) but OMG in the moment I cannot for the life of me ever remember how to undo it when I don’t do it on purpose.

        2. justsomeone*

          At one of my jobs you’d come back to find your computer looking exactly as you left it. But none of your icons would work.
          Your desktop would be changed to a screenshot of your desktop and then all the icons and the start ribbon hidden. It was very annoying, but just a kind of rite of passage. It happened to eeeeveryone.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            I used that to establish a truce with my boss (who fancies himself a prankster). I told him if he ever messed with me again, I’d redefine all the fonts on his system to move every character one key to the left, then redefine the keyboard mapping one key to the right. So everything in Word would look right, and print right, but every single word would be misspelled.

            (He knew I could do it, too. Though, given how much work it would be, I’d never actually bother. But then, I didn’t *need* to. The threat was enough.)

            1. Kali*

              I don’t get it; wouldn’t they just completely cancel out? Is it the idea that they would be wrong that would bother him?

              1. Heiki*

                I think every single word would get a red underline for being wrong?
                Also if he wanted to use a differnet font it’d be a disaster.

          2. Kelsi*

            I tried to do that to my mom (who is…not the MOST computer savvy, but also not incompetent) and she…never noticed. She just thought she’d somehow dragged the start bar off the screen by accident, so she unhid it and went about her day. Apparently she never uses her desktop icons, ever, and afaik the fake desktop is still her desktop background (though she doesn’t use that laptop much anymore).

            1. teclatrans*

              Lolol. I am quite computer-savvy, and this could totally happen to me. I just don’t use my desktop.

        3. Arya Snark*

          I tried this again recently and was very sad to find out it no longer works – at least not on my machine (Windows 10 & Office 2013)

      2. SQL Coder Cat*

        At my office, anyone who leaves their computer unlocked the first time gets a chat message sent in our ‘non-work’ channel that Pinky Pie is their favorite MLP. The second time, the message says they are bringing donuts the next day. I don’t know what we’d do if we caught someone a third time… it’s never happened.

      3. Wendy Darling*

        Mr Darling’s team used to send the entire team an email from the person’s computer saying something like “I’m a pretty princess!”

        They work in a pretty high security environment so they were eventually told to stop sending emails, because in most contexts sending an email from someone else’s account was pretty bad. I suggested my workplace practice, the Annoying Wallpaper Change (I always change it to something for kids/tweens — pictures of boy bands or cartoons). I’m not sure if it was adopted.

        I now work remote so cannot annoyingly change anyone’s desktop wallpaper anymore. :(

        1. Kyrielle*

          Even these can be non-harmless depending on what exactly it’s set to, but yeah, I like the wallpaper changes. (I threatened them more than did them – I once told a coworker that if he left his computer unlocked again, I’d change the wallpaper. He said that didn’t bother him, and I told him I’d change it to the Powerpuff Girls. That got him to laugh and say he’d be more careful.)

          But some years back, a coworker went into our lab (for testing our software) and changed the screensaver on a couple machines to mimic a virus that was going around at the time, which caused a bluescreen (hi, old Windows!) and reboot – infinitely. The best solution was to reboot in safe mode and clean, so there was a freakout and some powering-off of machines so they could be brought back up in safe mode off the network. Luckily he revealed the joke (and shortly, we’d have figured it out ourselves, I think) before a call was made to company IT to warn them that the virus had hit inside the network….

          Folks: screensaver and background changes are funny, if it’s clear what happened. Don’t make it look like something other than a joke, though, especially not a virus.

          1. President Porpoise*

            Uh, and make it safe for work. Unlike some college roommate pranks of this nature that I’ve seen.

          2. Wendy Darling*

            Yeah, I’m pretty conservative with the wallpaper changes. Good ideas: The person’s least-favorite band. A rival sports team. A glamour shot of Rick Astley. A picture from an annoying children’s cartoon, especially if the victim is super not into that kind of thing. A bewilderingly glossy high-resolution photo of something mundane, like a vegetable or a rubber duck. If they have a particular operating system allegiance, the logo of a different operating system.

            I knew I got it right when I changed a very manly male coworker (and repeat offender)’s background to One Direction and he actually shrieked.

            1. Agatha_31*

              I like finding wallpapers that are every color that makes your eyes bleed all at once. Or the kind that are optical illusions so every time you look at your desktop, it looks like it’s moving.

                1. Agatha_31*

                  Ohhhhhhh, bless you for this idea. Thanks to you and Google image search, this is going to make finding appropriately painful wallpapers faster for YEARS.

            2. Kelsi*

              If you have time for Photoshopping (which I realize isn’t the case if someone just walked away without locking), you can do what my younger brother did when he was being a little shit in school…

              He did vocational schooling for…idk, something computer-related. They used to change the desktops to silly things–including a random picture of an old man, don’t ask me, they were teenagers–until the teacher locked it down so they could only choose from default Windows desktops. But she didn’t lock down those files from being edited….sooo he went through and photoshopped the old man somewhere into every single Windows desktop (peeking from behind the hill, etc.)

              Might be funny to make a copy of their actual desktop, photoshop something silly into it, and replace with that.

          3. SusanIvanova*

            Back in the days of Apple][s, my high school got a prank app that looked like a command line but answered with odd things, like
            ] List
            Apples, eggs, milk

            Obviously a prank, not any kind of system error, and any Apple][ app can be killed with ctrl-c so it’s easy to get out of it. But the school district “IT” guy seriously thought the computers were broken. This being 1980 I have no clue what his background was or how he convinced anyone to hire him, but he had absolutely no clue about computers. He was supposed to be setting up a network; actually, my classmates and I did that.

        2. KellyK*

          Annoying wallpaper change is standard where I work. Specifically, it’s usually a picture of David Hasselhoff from Baywatch.

          I have a coworker who’s a bit of a prankster (in the fun way), and he would say “Boo!” to try to startle me. (Not yell or anything, just say it loudly from behind me.) He got me to jump one time. Then…then he left his ID card in his computer. I snagged it….for safe keeping of course…and replaced it with a post-it note that said “Boo!”

          1. Mel*

            One former co-worker and I had a Hasselhoff prank war. There are so many “inappropriate” Hasselhoff pictures on the internet…. My favorite was the one of him in a speedo that she got into my wallet. Took me entirely too long to find that one.
            (It was even funnier when Boss’s kid saw the 8×10 framed photo on her desk and thought she was married to the guy from Sponge Bob.)

      4. SKA*

        The only office prank I have ever pulled was along these lines — a coworker had a small collection of toy poodles in her cubicle (all plush, nothing breakable). Once while she was at lunch, I took three of them and juggled them while a coworker took a picture, which we then set as her desktop background before putting all the toys exactly where they’d been.

        1. Windchime*

          I used to have a “Woody” doll from Toy Story at my desk. One morning I walked in to find Woody and a Barbie doll on my desk in a compromising position. (We were all women and all friends, so it was really funny).

        2. Tiny Soprano*

          Haha that’s great! A couple of music teachers of mine in school took the head of music’s favourite mug hostage once and ransomed it for a jumbo pack of tim tams. They sent him photos of it in various locations around the school.

      5. Jennifer*

        If you leave your Facebook open at my volunteer job, you may get some fun messages or develop some new interests, such as catfish noodling.

        1. Monsters of Men*

          I prefer liking all their old statuses, so they come up to the top of everyone’s newsfeeds.

      6. Tammy*

        Where I work, if you leave your screen unlocked, you’re liable to come back and find that a particular browser extension has been installed which changes ALL of the images on all web pages you visit to random pictures of Nicholas Cage. But this is a documented thing (we have removal instructions on our internal support page) and part of our business deals with credit card data so we have CLEAR policies about locking your workstation when you leave.

      7. Jen*

        I’ve seen “I promise to bring in donuts for my coworkers and to remember to lock my screen” email….

    3. Brandy*

      Yeah I don’t feel this is a prank. That they didn’t mean it this way. That they thought it’d be funny to make someone upset. Pranks are funny. This was mean spirited. And I cant believe a wife thought it would be good to go along with this.

      1. irritable vowel*

        What horrifies me the most is that the wife continued to go along with it even when she saw how upset the coworker was – it sounds like she and her spouse (ie. one of the pranking coworkers) are a perfect match of people with terrible judgment and lack of compassion.

    4. K.*

      My ex works with a guy who looks very much like a celebrity – everyone commented on it, including me. When he went on vacation they put a cardboard stand-in of that celebrity in his office for him to find when he got back. He thought it was funny and kept it there, and it eventually made its way around the office – people posed with it. That’s a prank – harmless, funny, good time had by all. What the letter writer describes is terrorism.

      1. Turquoisecow*

        I worked for a food retailer, and we acquired a cardboard cut out of a baseball player who was promoting some brand of food. That cut out went around the office multiple times, serving as stand in for people who were out for a day or two, or just hanging out in offices and empty cubes. After someone left and her office remained empty for a while, someone wrote a name plate with the baseball player’s name and put it in place of the departed worker.

          1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

            They really are. In college my roommates and I…acquired…a life-sized cardboard Shaquille O’Neal and he lived in an out-of-immediate-view spot in our kitchen for several months surprising guests on their way to the bathroom. Good times.

          2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

            My cousin has a life-sized Martha Stewart. He likes to hide it in places where it will startle people, particularly in a gloomy corner where you will see it just after he’s told you a ghost story.

      2. my two cents*

        Did a similar thing – left a large cardboard Edward Cullen at a coworker’s desk while they were on vacation…it was peeking out from behind his wall calendar.

    5. WickerBag*

      I once played a prank like this. My victim had misplaced a valuable item (I had actually found and hidden it), and I told him we’d have to alert the authorities and pretended to call the police. I still remember the look of fear and guilt in his eyes, and to this day I feel terrible about it.

      I was 8 at the time. My brother, the prankee, was 5.

      Any adult who thinks that such a prank is a great idea, and even goes so far to rope in others and have one of them pretend to be a freaking police officer, needs to sign up for common sense training.

      1. I am embarrassed*

        Yeah, a friend and I also played a prank like this, involving a charity fundraiser, when we were kids (15). People in my lily white town would get “play arrested” for charity. The police officer (a real one) came to pick up our close friend, who was hanging out, for “disturbing the peace”, “boring people” and “making long speeches”. It was supposed to be immediately obvious that it was a prank, and we had hinted about the public fundraising that was going on. At the time all of the guys thought it was funny. In hindsight, we were so stupid. The cop immediately confirmed that he was not in real trouble, there was no vomiting, but in today’s climate, (eg the nurse in Utah) I would never mess around with this. I can’t believe our naivete. Truly one of the stupidest things I have ever done.

    6. Arya Snark*

      I’ve hidden plastic bugs under keyboards and in the microwave, covered the bottom of many a mouse, flipped the screen orientation for many others but the best one was to change a friend’s Excel signature to Bill Lumbergh, which I still get a laugh out of several years later….but all of these were harmless. The worst (best?) reactions were a startled gasp upon seeing a fake bug and my Very Serious boss who had never seen Office Space thinking someone named Bill Lumbergh had hacked us.

    7. Wren*

      My partner’s intern swapped a few of the keys his keyboard to spell his name in the home row. My partner touch types very well, so he actually never swapped any of it back. Several months later, the intern comes to his desk asking for help. My partner cedes the work station to the intern so intern can log in as himself and demonstrate the problem, but intern then can’t type his password properly because of the altered keyboard and locks himself out after getting it wrong multiple times. They sorted that out eventually, but it was pretty funny.

      On another occasion, my partner returned from business travel to a gift wrapped desk, every article individually wrapped. He liked it very much and tried to preserve as much of the wrap as possible for as long as possible.

      1. SarahKay*

        Gosh, that brings back memories of an old team I used to work with, where people would do keyboard swaps. Like your partner, I touch type, so wouldn’t even notice it had been done half the time…which did rather spoil their fun *grin*

    8. Lone Rhino*

      I work in restaurants so there are quite a few. One of my favorites is to mix a few hard-boiled eggs in with the rest of the eggs for the breakfast cook.

    9. silktree*

      We played a prank on a co-worker where we put a red helium balloon in his office and played creepy clown music the day after he went to see IT. His exact words, after he’d jumped out of his skin and laughed himself stupid, were “I’ve never felt so loved.”
      But if he’d had any other reaction – if he’d been genuinely scared, or upset that we’d gone into his office and touched his stuff, or felt like we were being nasty or singling him out – there would have been ten thousand apologies. Pranks aren’t meant to be cruel or upsetting.

    10. Anon for this one*

      One time I and some friemds sewed fake fur into around 150 “tribbles” (the critters from star trek) and I left one on the desk of everyone on my floor the Sunday before April Fool’s. Plus a few on conference room tables, break room counters, etc, with warnings on the whiteboards saying “DO NOT FEED THE TRIBBLES”. Everyone who I heard mention it was amused, and most people kept the tribbles as desk ornaments. Nobody knows it was me even now and I consider it a success.

  2. Bend & Snap*

    Every time I think an office prank story can’t be topped, there’s a new letter. I used to think the guy who locked a coworker on a balcony was the worst. This is like 10000x meaner than that.

    I hope the OP can get rid of these people and figure out how to do right by the harmed employee. Horrible.

    1. Doodle*

      The thing that makes this so much worse than that for me, is that that one was an impulse — “haha, this will be funny” a little in advance. This took SERIOUS PLANNING — wife, costume (I assume), etc. etc. Someone had to sit on this for DAYS and still think it was a good idea.

      1. Liane*

        Which means that the BEST, *Most Charitable* thing that can be said about the pranksters is “They clearly either don’t have enough work or they are slackers.”
        OP, I’d suggest that while you lobby for them to be fired, you load them up with the worst tasks you can find. That is, if there’s anything you still trust them to do.

      2. oranges & lemons*

        To me, the worst part is that they didn’t stop even when they saw their coworker sobbing to the point of throwing up.

        1. LavaLamp*

          Oy. Times like this, is when I wish we could send people howlers. These two definitely deserve a screeching letter along with being fired.

  3. Kiki*

    I also wonder how the prankee (is that a work?) has been treated by the company. Did the company apologize and give her severance? Have they just left her alone and not said anything? Did she officially quit or is that assumed from radio silence? I know she was only employed there a few months, but I hope at the very least she gets a good reference and a small severance.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      +1 on severance and a good reference. I would also think that HR should be involved with scheduling TRAINING for the pranking employees, if only for the reason that this kind of behavior trashes the reputation of the company, and I suspect the employee in question could pursue legal action against them, which can be costly, whether or not this particular incident rises to the level of “hostile work environment.”

      1. short'n'stout*

        This incident was beyond horrible but, unless the victim was pranked because of her membership of a protected class, it doesn’t come under the definition of “hostile work environment”. See website linked to my pseud for Alison’s explanation.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      I get the impression from the letter that she didn’t officially quit but just never came back. Even though she isn’t answering phone calls or letters, she absolutely should get a letter saying they’re sorry, she will receive a generous severance package (include the check with the letter), and she will get absolute glowing references.

      She may not still respond, but that’s really the best the OP can do right now.

      1. Lance*

        Honestly, after a traumatic event like that, would you expect anyone to hold any sort of remote association with the workplace in which it happened?

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          No, of course not. I’m just saying the bare minimum that the OP and/or company can do for her.

      2. Snark*

        My feeling is that their lawyer has advised them not to respond, because they’re pressing charges and/or filing a civil suit.

        1. Irene Adler*

          I sincerely hope so.

          Saw a similar prank to this one occur at a prior job-including someone impersonating a police officer. Unfortunately, one of the perpetrators was the shift supervisor. No recourse. They made the victim suffer 8 hours worrying about whether he’d be arrested at the end of the shift. Couldn’t eat his lunch. Couldn’t concentrate on his work.
          All of his co-workers were warned with disciplinary action if we tried to inform him it was a joke (the cop was the spouse of one of the shift supervisors “pets”). I personally was threatened with a suspension.
          No one was ever punished for this prank.

          1. Jesca*

            God. Way to prove the results of the Stanford Prison Experiment and just cognitive dissonance theory just in general. WTF?

          2. Alton*

            Wow, that’s even worse. There’s no way to assume good intentions when it’s dragged out that long and people are actually threatened not to intervene.

          3. EddieSherbert*

            What the efffffff?! That’s insane. I hope you got out of there ASAP after that (and everyone else did too!).

        2. YpsiGuy*


          OP, since you can’t fire those awful people, you should at least inform HR (or your manager) that it seems possible that a civil suit will be filed against the company, and it might be best for the CEO to start consulting with a lawyer on this matter today.

          (Also, perhaps that will get the person responsible for disciplining your awful employees to do their job).

            1. Tammy*

              I feel like, if OP is in a manager role, she has an ethical obligation to alert her leadership if she knows of something happening which would create legal issues for the company. I certainly don’t feel I could ethically remain silent if I knew of someone that was likely to sue. If you’re an individual contributor, I think you still have an ethical obligation to your employer, but it’s unquestionable in my mind that people in leadership roles do.

              1. WinterWonders*

                But she doesn’t know. The employee hasn’t had any contact with anyone from the company. She’d be guessing, at best.

                1. Engineer Girl*

                  It isn’t 100% but this absolutely falls under risk management. Or better, crisis management since the event already occurred.

        3. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Even worse than pressing charges or filing a suit – the victim could spread this story on social media and completely destroy the company’s reputation.

        4. Catalin*

          Agreed; IANAL and I’ve never thought about recommending a lawsuit, but this needs to happen. Severe emotional distress (with a mother she’s already taking care of!) to the point that (she feels) she can’t go back to work, the police impersonation (!!)…if I knew this poor woman I’d pony up lawyer money for her because consequences need to be faced.

          1. Wintermute*

            This is a pet peeve of mine so please forgive me. “emotional distress” isn’t a thing in the vast majority of cases. It can be a reason to increase an existing monetary award, and it can be a factor in wrongful death suits, but if no one’s dead, it’s probably not going to happen.

            In general the common law rule applies: you need actual (not hypothetical) real (not potential), monetary (not intangible) damages in order to have a suit.

    3. Kate*

      I had the same question regarding her quitting. I mean, I understand that cutting off communication with your company sounds like quitting, but how much time has passed? I feel like she deserves a little bit of leeway here. Also, did the calls and letters she’s not responding to indicate how seriously the OP is taking this and that consequences will be handed down to the 2 offending employees? Or were they just like, “Hey, call me back”? The prank victim is probably feeling quite angry and humiliated right now, so she probably needs to feel like the OP has her back. And I agree with Kiki and College Career Counselor that if she chooses not to come back, severance and a good reference would be nice offers.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        I understand that cutting off communication with your company sounds like quitting, but how much time has passed?

        I live in at-will employment state. I remember one job telling me explicitly when hired that if I didn’t show up for work one day without explanation (i.e., not calling in sick or whatever), they’d just assume the second day that I didn’t show up that I’d quit.

        Not sure if the OP’s company does something like that.

        1. bridget*

          I think that’s generally a good rule if someone doesn’t show up with no context, but this case is pretty different. The last time they saw this person they were (extremely reasonably) traumatized to the point of physical sickness, so I think the much more compassionate response here would be to give her a lot more leeway than usual, and allow her sufficient time to recover in peace before pestering her about whether she actually quit or not.

          If it’s been more than a week with no response, I think it’s fair to say she quit, but if she wants to reverse that decision, the company should let her.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            I mean, they certainly shouldn’t fire her. She should be able to keep her job, but I highly doubt she wants it back.

          2. Kate*

            Yes, exactly. I think in this particular case, the prank victim understandably may need a few days to recoup, so the OP (and her company) should be compassionate about that. Without this context, I do think going MIA from your job for even a couple days indicates you quit, and if the prank victim in this case has been gone for several weeks with no contact, I’d also say it’s safe to assume she quit. I just wasn’t sure of those details from the letter.

        2. nonegiven*

          I think there is plenty of explanation for why she hasn’t been in touch.

          She is probably in touch with a lawyer and I wouldn’t be surprised if she is under a doctor’s care for anxiety.

    4. eplawyer*

      something tells me there is more going on here. The pranked employee only there for 6 months, everyone else for 6-9 years. Maybe they have been cliqueish or standoffish to the new person? Or thought it would be a “welcome to the team” moment.

      Yeah these guys need to be gone. If the company won’t fire, then everyone else needs to start job hunting.

      I am not a fan of pranks in general, not even messages left on your computer. It’s not yours, don’t touch it. But this is not one of those “you have no sense of humor” pranks, this is downright CRUEL.

      1. Luna*

        Yes the power imbalance there is really striking. I started a new job less than a year ago and I definitely didn’t even start to feel really comfortable with all my new co-workers until at least 6+ months in. To have that happen at a new job, especially since it sounds like this was her first job out of college, would be traumatizing.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Yup. And if this really was her first job out of college, can you imagine what impression these idiots gave her of the workplace? She’ll probably be on guard at her next place of employment, which is a shame.

  4. Archie Goodwin*

    I’m struggling to imagine any scenario in which anyone would think this sort of thing is in any way “amusing”.

    And failing desperately.


  5. Leatherwings*


    I can’t imagine most people would find this even remotely funny or acceptable if it were done to them. OP, I hope you can enforce some sort of consequence here or your superiors will. Revoking remote or flexible work might be something you can enforce if they have those benefits. If they’ve demonstrated they can’t be trusted and have terrible judgement, it makes sense to keep them on an extremely tight leash.

    1. The Queen's Obedient Cousin*

      This was my thought — if you can’t fire them, OP, can you at least use the power you have to enforce other consequences? Having to pick up their co-worker’s workload, since they drove her out of the office and it’s clearly not getting done, seems like a very logical consequence that they’ve demonstrably earned.

      1. nonymous*

        I would also say that OP should give them the lowest performance rating that they can and be put on a PIP. While this would be painful for the manager, I’m tempted to suggest that these so-called pranksters have clearly demonstrated a lack of judgement and need to check in daily to monitor their work. Certainly their autonomy in the workplace needs to be severely curtailed.

        It may require restructuring the workload within the team so that non-participating staff take senior duties (with subsequent recognition and promotion opportunities) and that the culprits be demoted to junior/supervised responsibilities, at least until they can demonstrate greater competence.

  6. EditorInChief*

    What awful coworkers to carry a stupid prank to that level, especially when they see the recipient of their “fun” crying and upset. I absolutely despise pranks in any form, especially in the office. They’re mean spirited and are only funny to the person pulling the prank.

    1. Future Homesteader*

      Yup! Someone has to cry pretty damn hard for a considerable period of time before they throw up. How on god’s green earth did they watch this happen and not think “hmm, maybe we should stop this now?” It’s a pathological lack of sympathy at best and pure, monstrous cruelty at worst.

      1. EditorInChief*

        I’m so angry for that young woman. I hope those idiots get fired. I’d be interested to know what the dynamics were between the three employees beforehand.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      That’s the kicker- that they brought the prank to this level. They must have been planning it for weeks and took days to implement. They brought in someone to pretend to be a police officer – which is illegal – but why would anyone agree to that? “Hey, would you come in and pretend to be a police officer in a major office prank?” Who would think that is a good idea?
      It is mind boggling. How is it that no one wised up along the way and cut the prank short?

      1. Mona Lisa*

        Who would think that is a good idea?

        The person married to one of the pranksters in this case. Apparently like attracts like here.

    3. Natalie*

      That almost bothers me more than the original idea. It’s one thing to assume the target will be okay with it when you’re planning something and everything’s theoretical. Maybe that assumption comes up projection, past experience, or idiocy, who knows. It’s a whole different level to watch someone obviously falling apart and not realize that you have crazily, wildly messed up and should pull the plug right now.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, I’m itching to interrogate them separately and make them turn on each other; I bet they’ll each say they wanted to quit it then but the other people were in charge.

        1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          Yes, that would be my guess. They realized it wasn’t going how they’d planned but couldn’t think of an exit strategy and hoped someone else would. Which also shows a lack of judgment and moral courage but by this point I think that’s a given.

          At my work, because of collective bargaining, I or HR would be doing just exactly that kind of questioning since we’d have to do an investigation before firing their asses. And I’m pretty damn sure we WOULD be firing at least some of them and not worrying about a possible grievance. (I looked up the procedures I’d have to follow because this letter drove me that batty.)

        2. JessaB*

          fposte, I’m with you on the interrogation idea. Heck I’d love to lock em in a room and let Joe Kenda stare at em for an hour.

      2. hbc*

        Me too. Boneheadedness is one thing, but they got past 1) super hard crying, 2) vomiting, and 3) begging to call in support for sick mom. Just one of those would have anyone who isn’t a sociopath calling off the prank, and they couldn’t have happened in such quick succession that a person couldn’t get a word in to call it off.

        Even if it didn’t start with malicious intent, they’ve proved themselves to be horrible human beings devoid of empathy, and I would feel really uncomfortable sharing a conference room, bathroom, or office fridge with them. Who knows what else they’re capable of?

        1. SamKD*

          Yes. This. So very much this. In the setting of newest employee targeted and evidence of significant forethought/planning.

    4. Kateshellybo19*

      It is cruel but it could be cruelty from idiocy rather than sadism. ie If they back off now they have to admit they were wrong and this really is mean. So instead they figure oh she is actually ok she is just being dramatic and once they tell her she’ll laugh too. A lot of people like this also come from a background of teasing in a mean way and so do not realize that others just are not as thick skinned about such things.

      Never underestimate the stupid lengths people will go to when they don’t want to feel bad for something they have done wrong.

      (note it is still cruel and wrong just perhaps not directly driven by sadism)

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I remember a “friend” in high school brought up subject X and I started crying. She kept going. Finally, in effort to change direction, I said, “You’re supposed to be my friend, why would you say something to make me cry?”

      “Oh, I just wanted to see you cry.”

      These people are out there, they DO exist.
      Yeah, that was the last conversation I ever had with her.

  7. Guy Incognito*

    I once pranked a co-worker by stealing the staples out of his stapler. All but a few so he’d run out, he’d get more. Then when that batch went through I’d replace it with the ones I took, just to mess with him so. This was because he’d given me a hard time about staples earlier. THAT was a prank, and mildly messed with him. We don’t work together but we’re friends now.

    This was fraud. The brought in one of their wives TO PRETEND TO ARREST THIS WOMAN who is definitely planning legal action. I promise you, she is not contacting you back on the advice of a lawyer. This is awful, and these two people should be fired, and then rehired only for the sheer satisfaction of firing them again. This… wow. I don’t know the thinking that goes into that. I guess not much.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Right, but there usually isn’t a civil remedy for it. A DA would have to bring criminal charges, and they’re unlikely to prosecute something like this.

        (Having seen someone prosecuted for impersonating an officer, his conduct was WAY worse than this also awful story.)

        1. JulieBulie*

          True, the victim can’t press charges for impersonating a police officer. But the employer should be concerned that those two employees conspired with another person to commit such a crime on the premises. (Don’t get me wrong – the so-called prank was bad enough without that. But most employers prefer that their employees show some respect for the law.)

    1. Corky's wife Bonnie*

      “I promise you, she is not contacting you back on the advice of a lawyer.” That thought crossed my mind, I don’t think your company has heard the last of her.

      1. Fiennes*

        If so, the company deserves what’s coming. Had they fired the perpetrators on the spot — as was warranted — they’d be in the clear. As it is, the company is exercising its own bad judgment letting the wrong people walk out the door.

      2. Tuxedo Cat*

        I was going to suggest that. I’m pretty sure impersonating a police officer is illegal.

        I’m not sure if the company can be held liable, but besides being horrible for the victim, it’s not going to look good for the company. It could be the kind of story that goes viral.

    2. kittymommy*

      Yeah I’d love to know how long/far the cop thing went. Did she call and say she was law enforcement, did she show up with a fake badge?? Cause I don’t rhinkvyou can do that… and I’m sure the actual law enforcement agency would like to know about this.

    3. Archie Goodwin*

      You remind me of a scene from Becker:

      Linda: Someday you’ll look back on this and laugh.
      Dr. John Becker: Maybe I will. But before then, I will kill you. And then I’ll use my powers as a physician to bring you back to life. And then, I will kill you again.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I don’t really think she has a lawsuit, here, but I can understand why she might abandon her job after an experience like this.

      1. eplawyer*

        She had a physical reaction to emotional upset — the very definition of intentional infliction of emotional distress. She can sue the jerks at the least. The company MAYBE. But the company would be careful right now to not to be seen harrassing her. Remember the company who had the guy who upset the person calling her repeatedly? Yeah tone deaf.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          A physical reaction to emotional upset is not the definition of IIED—you have to prove that it was “extreme and outrageous,” which is defined as conduct that goes beyond merely the “malicious, harmful or offensive.”

          Most courts have a very high bar for what constitutes “extreme and outrageous.” The last time I saw someone win an IIED claim, it was because they were subjected to daily racial slurs, nooses hung on their locker, and their coworkers physically lifted them and put them in a trash-compacting industrial-grade dumpster and made them think the compacting mechanism was on (and would crush them to death) while making racially derogatory comments.

          You don’t have to have a protected class overlay. The employee can certainly sue the two employees (but not the employer), and if I were them I would settle to avoid the cost/hassle of going to court. But it’s not a clear-cut claim, imo.

      2. K, Esq.*

        I’d say she has a decent enough IIED claim that settlement would make sense. Probably also constructive discharge, but I don’t do employment law.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Constructive discharge on its own isn’t a cause of action; it would need to be linked to illegal harassment or discrimination or another legal violation.

        2. bridget*

          She probably has an IIED claim against the pranksters, but not the company itself. Vicarious liability would be unlikely to attach to the company in circumstances like this, because IIED is an intentional tort, which generally can’t be the basis for respondeat superior.

          1. bridget*

            While I’m regurgitating my 1L torts outline: the exception to that rule is if the nature of the job makes it reasonably foreseeable that your employee may commit an intentional tort, e.g. if you hire a bouncer, you may be liable if they commit an intentional tort like assault or battery. That seems unlikely to apply here; I don’t know of any office jobs where it is reasonably likely that your employees will intentionally inflict emotional distress on one another (CIA training, where would-be agents practice psychological torture on their classmates?).

              1. sstabeler*

                from what little I know of it, they don’t actually go as far as psychological torture- however, in that particular case, if it was literally part of the training, then either the CIA would be rather more directly liable- since if it was criminal, it’d probably constitute conspiracy- or it wouldn’t be a tort due to literally being part of the job.

                1. sstabeler*

                  the same applies to the military for SERE training- that’s not usually given to all soldiers, IIRC, so since you would have to specifically volunteer, then it wouldn’t be a tort.

          2. Not Brian Dailey*

            To reiterate what I said about: I don’t see how you get around the “substantial certainty” standard for proving intent.

      3. Alton*

        It’s hard to say if she’d win, but she could definitely sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress, at the very least. Possibly false imprisonment, if she was made to believe she was under arrest. There have been similar lawsuits over “pranks” like these. They don’t always win, but it’s something that can go to court.

      4. Raine*

        This is what I was thinking. It doesn’t seem like a protected class issue, so she most likely doesn’t have a Title VII claim. However, the coworkers are jerks and should have some serious consequences for their actions.

    5. ClownBaby*

      I once pranked a coworker when I did custom cabinetry design by placing a spooky ghost picture on the inside of a cabinet in a display kitchen in October. That’s where we kept Lysol wipes to clean the countertops, so I knew she’d see it. After that we would take turns hiding it in all the display kitchens waiting for the other to find it. That’s as mean spirited as my pranks get.

      What happen to that poor woman is straight up abuse.

    6. Jennifer*

      Hah, that prank reminds me of reading “The Wizzle War” as a kid, except they did something similar with computer paper.

      1. LavaLamp*

        I’d have probably called the cops to verify that this person was a member of the force or not. Sadly, you can buy the uniform from any old uniform retailer generally. The police station you work for I believe supplies the patches and fancy bits to show where you work.

    7. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

      I would sincerely like to know if the wife is actually an officer and was pretending to arrest the coworker or if the wife had any connection to law enforcement.

    8. nonegiven*

      >who is definitely planning legal action.

      If she is not, it’s because she’s at home curled up in ball crying.

      Can you imagine what went through her head, to have the kind of reaction she did? I’d be surprised if she was able to work any where, any time soon.

      Eventually, someone will suggest a lawyer to her if she doesn’t already have one.

  8. Arrogant Degree-Holder*

    I always wonder what people are thinking when they do things like this. What exactly did they expect to happen? For her to laugh? They clearly weren’t friends with her, and there was no background of doing this kind of thing regularly.



    1. Myrin*

      Right? I’m so befuddled by this. Certainly the last thing I would do if an alleged police officer came at me to arrest me would be to laugh – what exactly was the end goal here?

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Agreed. This was almost pathologically cruel and depraved. My jaw just kept dropping as the phrases “who does that??!!” and “@&@$/&783!!” played louder and louder in my head.

            These employees behaved like bullies and true garbage people.

          2. serenity*

            Exactly. If inflicting this amount on distress on someone is their idea of “funny”, I’m really concerned about the judgment of all the perpetrators. This is bad.

      1. Tau*

        Honestly, I’m wondering if this wasn’t intended to be bullying from the start, and the “prank” story concocted after the fact to cover them when it blew up (“oh, it was just a prank! she can’t take a joke, that’s all!”) It seems more likely to me than someone not just thinking this would be funny for the victim but persisting past the crying, vomiting and panic about a sick mother.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Yeah, me too. “It was a joke! We didn’t know she’s over-react like that!” is a classic deflection of bullying.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              I think it would be more of general incompetence as a human being. “Go back to kindergarten and learn the rules of life all over again, because you massively failed the first time.”

    2. Alton*

      What’s incredible to me is that this isn’t the first case like this. I remember a story from several years back where a woman who worked for an airline sued because her co-workers pulled a prank like this on her, and there have been other similar cases, as well.

      I wonder if people who think things like this are a good idea are the same people who are okay with things like dangerous or humiliating hazing, or who think that bullying is a rite of passage that toughens you up.

      1. LesMor*

        Yes – and I suggest we move away from the word “prank” and call it what it is: sociopathic sadistic BULLYING. Sociopaths do not have a conscience. I doubt these people will ever feel a nanosecond of genuine remorse because they are incapable of it.

        1. LavaLamp*

          Agreed. A prank is something silly, like putting googly eyes on the clock. Doesn’t hurt anyone, and people are okay.

          This is just sick. I really don’t want to live on this planet anymore.

      2. TardyTardis*

        Well, in the Harry Potter books it’s cool to do that kind of thing if you’re a Gryffindor (feeding to a werewolf, choking with soap, stripping someone’s clothes off, sticking them in a box with no apparent exit, etc.).

    3. GreyjoyGardens*

      IKR? I am trying to comprehend just what makes someone think this is a terrific and funny idea, and failing.

      I agree that it sounds more like straight-up bullying than merely a “prank.” I wonder if the victim was “different” to the perps somehow – the only person of her race, the youngest by far, gender-nonconforming, trans, wears a religious head covering…something that the perps are prejudiced against?

  9. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

    Oh my god.
    I hate pranks and this one just about tops the cake as far as pranks go.

    The poor employee! Way to really traumatize someone. And I’m getting the shivers just thinking that she might be part of a minority which would make this even MORE traumatizing.

    Ugh. I didn’t even get angry, just sad.

  10. Antilles*

    I’m also curious about how they’ve reacted to what happened. Do they maintain they did nothing wrong, even now that they see that their target vomit and quit her job over this, and do they continue to insist that they meant well and it’s not their fault that their coworker didn’t react as planned? Or have they realized in retrospect how horrible this was?
    Anyone who thinks “faking grand larceny” is a good prank is very likely the kind of person whose response to this would be “it was just a joke! Jenny needs to lighten up!”.

    1. nep*

      This was basically the reaction I got when I didn’t like that a male coworker was grabbing women colleagues and throwing them in the swimming pool (that is part of our facility). I absolutely could not believe the reactions I was getting; people were looking at me as if I’d just dropped from outer space when I expressed dismay. Had he done it to me, I’d have filed a complaint / charges so fast his head would spin. I talked to the director about it and I think he also thought he should just sit there and listen to my overreaction.
      Just a joke…..lighten up. UGH — that’s the worst.

      1. nep*

        (Just referring back to the words of the earlier comment — my director didn’t use those words or that approach. He heard me out but I really got the feeling he just thought it was the right thing to do to hear me out. He pretended to be dismayed as well, but I didn’t buy it and as far as I know nothing was done.)

      2. nep*

        Yikes — too many piecemeal posts here…Just wanted to add that I do not in any way compare the case at my workplace to the awful, awful act of these employers.

        1. nep*

          Nope. I really was astounded at my colleagues’ being OK with it and even thinking it was funny. Including women who were manhandled and tossed in the pool. Oh. Hell. No. You don’t put your hands on my body. Part of me regrets not filing a formal complaint.

      3. Alienor*

        OMG, I would have lost it. Not only is throwing people into pools not funny, it could literally be fatal for someone like my daughter who never learned to swim (she had lessons as a child, but they didn’t work). I’m always afraid that some idiot at a party will think it’s a great joke to push her into a pool, but I expect workplaces at least to be free from that sort of nonsense.

        1. bkanon*

          I HAVE drowned in a swimming pool. Had to be brought back to life, spent a week in the hospital. I panic if I misaim at a drinking fountain and get water on my face. Just the thought of being shoved in a pool raises my pulse.

        2. JessaB*

          If they did that to me, after the panic attack (for which they’d be paying the hospital bills,) they’d be given a bill for somewhat in the order of six grand to replace my hearing aids. Oh and if I’m not wearing custom fitted ear mould plugs and water gets my damaged ears it’s a good 90% that I’ll end up with an infection. So they can pay that medical bill too.

          How any management could think pushing someone into a pool was an acceptable practise and since it’s only women, I’d call that a hostile environment claim because seriously.

          1. nep*

            It still baffles me and pisses me off. The employee in question went on to a better job. (He’d already been looking so his move was not to do with this assholery.)
            It’s one of many reasons I’m eager to get out of this place; I’m looking, but for now I’ve got to keep the handful of hours I’m working there as it’s my sole income. For now.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        I must be from outer space, too, nep.
        A boss knocked an employee to the floor and dragged her across the floor by one hand.

        I yelled at the boss to stop. Incredibly, the EMPLOYEE, told ME to stop and that there was NO problem.

        Well, at least I knew that he would not be doing that to me, he saw what happened when he did it to someone else.

  11. Employment Lawyer*

    How on earth are they not fired?
    How on earth has the departed employee not filed suit against the company?
    Do these people have any clue?

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Isn’t it illegal to impersonate an officer? If the OP is having trouble getting the ok to fire these bozos, it might be compelling to add breaking the law to the list of justification.

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          Eh, I don’t know if I’d report the crime. But I would surely bring it up when I was asking permission to fire these pranksters.

          1. Indoor Cat*

            I would. 100%.

            In Ohio (where I live) it is a felony to impersonate a police officer in order to commit a crime, even if the crime is as small as a traffic violation. The description of the coworkers’ “prank” sounds like it meets the parameters to be criminal harassment, as opposed to civil harassment:

            “criminal harassment entails intentionally targeting someone else with behavior that is meant to alarm, annoy, torment or terrorize them. Not all petty annoyances constitute harassment. Instead, most state laws require that the behavior cause a credible threat to the person’s safety or their family’s safety.”

            By my take on the situation, the coworkers and one wife conspired to torment a coworker with malice aforethought, resulting in her physical suffering and potentially psychological trauma, and their conspiracy involved impersonating a police officer to do so. The two together would raise the impersonating a police officer charge to a felony, one which a five year minimum sentence is the rule, which is compounded by charges of criminal harassment.

            There are laws I find unjust, and there are laws I find just but the punishments unjust. In this case, though, I think “it is a crime to impersonate a government authority figure to psychologically terrorize an innocent person” is a damn good law. It is a just law. It is a law which ought to be enforced to its fullest extent.

            If us commenters want to give these “pranksters” the benefit of the doubt, by all means, do so. But I believe that this was a malicious crime done by hateful sadists. If crimes like this go unpunished, future hateful sadists learn that these actions are given a free pass, and not taken seriously. Victims learn that they do not matter, that they ought to expect cruelty as a rule rather than an exception. Nothing improves. I hope the employee presses criminal charges, both for her own sake–so that she might find some validation and confirmation that, yes, she is right to recognize how wrong this is–and for the sake of her community as a whole.

            An addendum: wearing a police uniform, or even impersonating an officer over the phone, grants the wearer considerable psychological power over regular citizens. I don’t want to link to it here as it is pretty graphic, but there were several news stories around 2006 about a “strip search hoax” where a man impersonating a police officer called a ton of fast food restaurants and commanded managers to force employees–and in one case, a customer–to strip naked, and sometimes worse. There were over 20 victims before he was caught. I am certain if he didn’t pretend to be a police officer and, instead, just said he was some other kind of authority, maybe McDonalds’ CEO or something, there would be far fewer managers who would’ve gone along with his crime.

      1. MuseumChick*

        If thing that came to my mind was emotional distress, and, a bit of a stretch but potentially harassment if she was targeted because of her gender. Probably other stuff. Hopefully a lawyer will chim in.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m curious about this too. This doesn’t trigger the usual labor laws we talk about here. I assume that the impersonating a police officer thing isn’t something the coworker can sue over herself (although the local jurisdiction could bring their own charges), but I’m just guessing.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          In most circumstances she can’t sue over the impersonation. If there were false imprisonment issues, then maybe. But I’m not seeing a clear basis for a lawsuit.

          Unfortunately, people being generally craven or shitty is not usually a basis for suit.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              You’d be closer to false imprisonment (a tort) than kidnapping, but it doesn’t sound like they “seized” or confined her within the meaning of most kidnapping statutes.

              But keep in mind that kidnapping is up there with felonies like murder and rape—bringing a charge for an extremely cruel office prank is likely not as high a priority as bringing charges against someone without custody who absconds with their child, traffics other humans, or enslaves/imprisons someone.

          1. paul*

            IANAL but I’m not sure if the company would have any liability here. Maybe if she can show a pattern of harassment prior to this event that was ignored or something?

          2. paul*

            “Unfortunately, people being generally craven or shitty is not usually a basis for suit.”

            Amen. People wildly overestimate what you can successfully sue over. Frequently, when someone’s shitty, you do not have a remedy through the courts.

        2. Kali*

          I’ve just shown the post to my boyfriend (second year law student) and he’s having fun making a list. Bear in mind though, second year law, in the UK. So far, he’s got;

          impersonating an officer, straight out of the running
          which probably has an assault charge in there as the report vomited
          ‘taken into custody’, trespass against the person
          she has a dependent, not a crime but probably known to those involved and aggravating factors that increase the punishment to be given
          why are people so people sometimes

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Sure, but the question isn’t what potential crimes can a law student find, but what is the actual likelihood of police/prosecutors pursuing it? Generally in situations like this, the answer is “low.”

            1. Kali*

              In the UK, the impersonation would be a crime against the crown so an individual definitely couldn’t sue over it. If the police took it seriously, they could sue and the individual could also pursue damages for assault.

              I agree with you, but I am having fun with revenge fantasies. I’m hoping this post has a quick update!

              1. Rebeck*

                In my state in Australia this would definitely fall under the workplace bullying laws. It might not get to court, but there would be Workcover proceedings at least.

                1. ZucchiniBikini*

                  Yes, I’m not sure what state Rebeck is in, but in my Australian state we now have laws that make serious bullying a crime which can carry jail time. The law was amended as a result of a case where a young woman committed suicide after ongoing egregious bullying at work. I am pretty confident that this behaviour is serious enough to be caught under those provisions.

        3. Perse's Mom*

          IANAL, but possibly a civil suit against the pranksters for trauma and emotional distress? When she asked to make arrangements for her ill mother, did this get back to her already ill mother and affect HER health? The employee hasn’t responded at all, so we don’t even know if vomiting was the end of it or if her own health spiraled (this is massive stress on top of the stress of caring for her mother) as a result.

          Maybe there’s nothing she could do against the company (besides drop them into some VERY negative publicity waters over refusal to act against the pranksters), but I’d guess she has some civil recourse. And that’s really if there were no other indicators that they were targeting her specifically for something that WOULD touch on labor laws.

        4. IT is not EZ*

          Intentional infliction of emotional distress. Hostile work environment, and while it doesn’t meet the federal standard, I can certainly see a jury agreeing with the defendant fining a the company and the employees.

          While the employees did not break the law (aside from the matter of impersonating a police officer), tort actions do not require a criminal component to result in a civil judgement.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Hostile work environment requires that the conduct be based on race, sex, disability, religion, or other protected characteristic. It’s possible that was that case here, but if it not, it’s not hostile workplace.

          2. nonegiven*

            Impersonating a LEO for the non employee and conspiracy to impersonate a LEO for anyone else involved.

        5. JKP*

          Could she sue over lost wages? She couldn’t be expected to go back to work with those two, and unemployment doesn’t cover 100% of your wages.

          1. Natalie*

            I don’t think so, assuming she’s in an at-will state and has no contract or union. She was never legally entitled to earn future wages, and could have been fired or laid off at any time for any (not otherwise illegal) reason.

        6. TaxAnon*

          I would think a hostile workplace suit would apply on the grounds that the company is contributing to a hostile workplace by continuing to employ the prankster.

        7. Alton*

          Depending on the jurisdiction, she could due for intentional infliction of emotional distress and potentially false imprisonment. Those things can sometimes be hard to prove in court, but you can make a case for them. Most of the cases I’m aware of involved actual involvement by law enforcement, though (like real officers participating in a prank), which may make a difference.

          1. Nea*

            Being accused of theft and threatened in front of co-workers with arrest is probably enough for her to add slander to the charges. If the fake cop restrained her from leaving or tried to lead her somewhere, it’s kidnapping as well as false imprisonment.

            Which also bumps the charges for Wife from “impersonating a police officer” to “impersonating a police officer in the commission of a crime.”

        8. nonegiven*

          If they pulled this one on her, what other things have they been subjecting her to since she’s been working there?

          This big of a performance wouldn’t come from out of the blue. There has almost certainly been other smaller things before this that would constitute a pattern that she may not have reported, thinking that would just make the bullying worse.

          1. TootsNYC*

            This is an important point.

            As is the point that perhaps it has occurred to them that they could steal $50,000.

            If I could do NOTHING else, I’d be applying extreme pressure on them about accuracy and verification of any financial things.

      3. CatCat*

        Depends on the state. Intentional infliction of emotional distress comes to mind. I’m not a personal injury attorney and have no idea if the company could have vicarious liability for something like this.

      4. Samiratou*

        Also, if it’s her first job out of college and she’s only been there a few months, it’s not super likely she’d immediately go litigious. Maybe she has an inordinate amount of chutzpah for someone her age, but as noted she might not have much in the way of a lawsuit (particularly against her employer–the employees, maybe). Most likely her disappearing act is more a combo of trauma, not having any desire to see any of them again, along with no good idea how to handle such a situation.

      5. Employment Lawyer*

        I’d find something. Emotional distress. Lost wages–she’s jobless, now, right? If I could find a way to say the company encouraged or turned a blind eye to it–which would be a lot easier since they DIDNT FIRE ANYONE–then I’d name the company and this sort of thing would possible result in a judge being passed enough to allow punitives.

        This isn’t the strongest legal claim but it’s a stellar set of facts. I think I could make something which would withstand summary judgment. At that point you have a good case; no employer in their right mind would want this in front of a jury.

        1. Government Lawyer*

          Not in private practice, but it is an excellent set of facts. An IIED claim, bringing in the employer, and a word or two to a reporter would probably bring a lighting fast settlement for lost wages and hush money.

          On the criminal charges, I know an ADA or two who’d find it hilarious to actually charge these idiots for false imprisonment, conspiracy, and impersonating an officer. They’re people too, and this is really outrageous behavior – actual police don’t want to be associated with it or disregarded because maybe their order is a prank by someone.

      6. One of the Sarahs*

        In the UK, if someone is being bullied at work, and anyone in the management chain knows they’re being bullied and doesn’t deal with it, that opens the company to liability (I think constructive dismissal?). It’s not just if it’s the bullies/victims managers, but any managers.

        So if someone like a team leader knew about it, and didn’t stop it, there would be a case. IF, I know!

    2. AndersonDarling*

      They should have at least been suspended while the company sorted everything out and decided what action to take.

      1. fposte*

        I’ll be curious to know if any of the lawyers here do see a viable cause of action. I gotta say, though, that if I were a lawyer friend of the prankee, I’d volunteer to write a shaking-the-tree letter at no charge, and if I were the OP, I’d recommend the company hand over some fruit.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I am sure that there are more than a few lawyers who would be very happy to write that letter for the former employee.

          1. CatCat*

            Non economic/pain and suffering damages for the emotional injury (same as any other injury). She may have limited her economic damages by quitting, but that doesn’t impact the non economic damages.

            Depending on the actual damage done to Beth, if she is married and the damage has harmed her marital relationship, her spouse may also have a claim for loss of consortium with non economic damages also being the damages.

            1. fposte*

              NAL, but aren’t those pretty hard to win on, though? However, I like K’s point below, that it might be about what you can get a settlement on anyway.

              1. CatCat*

                I’m not a personal injury lawyer so I do not know how hard they are to win. I think it would be costly to litigate though. I imagine you’d need an expert witness on the emotional damage piece. I think nastygram + settlement offer would be the least costly process. The leverage over the pranksters (and the company, if vicarious liability is possible) is also the money, time, and reputational costs of having a public trial about this.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Yes—IIED claims are super hard to win, and usually they accompany other related torts (i.e., people rarely sue and win on IIED alone).

          2. Observer*

            Given the severity of the action taken against her and the fact that the pranksters are still in place, she could argue that the workplace is not safe for her.

            1. fposte*

              The workplace isn’t required to be safe for her, though. It’s just required to be nondiscriminatory.

              (I suspect in a lot of states this would be a quit that you’d still get unemployment for, though.)

              1. Observer*

                But in the context of constructive dismissal, which would enable her to collect unemployment, and economic damages, this is relevant. In other words, if she were to sue for damages and say that she lost her job because of it, they would probably not be able to argue that she refused to come back to work – she could point out that as long as the perpetrators were still working there, it’s not safe for her to go back, so they caused her to lose her job.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  In most states, constructive dismissal has to have a protected class tie-in (i.e., the workplace is unsafe in a discriminatory manner).

                2. Observer*

                  PCBH, I’m fairly sure that you are wrong, in the context of unemployment insurance. Just as an outright firing doesn’t have to be discriminatory to make you eligible, neither does constrictive dismissal.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Observer, I agree with you in the unemployment context! I apologize; I thought you were talking about it in the lawsuit context.

          3. Lynxa*

            We don’t know she doesn’t have medicals. If I were her attorney (and I am an attorney :D ) I’d get her to a therapist and psychologist ASAP and start that paper trail. Get her taken off work due to extreme anxiety and PTSD, which shows she can’t mitigate her damages. I’d probably stick to Comp since that’s where the insurer is (and the co-workers probably don’t have any money) unless there was enough employment history on the two to show the company should have known they were likely to do something like this, or unless the Plaintiff were part of a protected class and had been targeted for it by these two previously.

            Whether this could survive MSJ in comp is iffy since this might be an intentional Tort, but that argument could open the company up to negligence liability (why weren’t they monitoring their employees? what did they know about these employees’ behaviors up to this point?) and that’d be a good negotiating position for settlement.

      2. K, Esq.*

        I’d say IIED – they intended her to have a reaction, otherwise the prank wouldn’t have worked. And when the sobbing went to the point of actual vomiting and they kept up the charade, they definitely intended to cause her severe emotional distress. IIED and NIED are so hard to win, but she’s got enough of a case to talk settlement. And I don’t do employment law, but she may have a case for constructive discharge if the employer didn’t do anything about the situation, but since she’s refused contact I don’t know if that would hold up.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I noted this above, but constructive discharge on its own isn’t a cause of action; it would need to be linked to illegal harassment or discrimination or another legal violation.

          (I feel like I’m shooting people down all over this thread. Sorry.)

          1. Natalie*

            It’s also a thing for unemployment – most states (maybe all?) accept constructive discharge as the same thing as being terminated. Although who knows, in some of the less generous states the constructive discharge bar could be super high.

              1. K, Esq.*

                I was thinking of constructive discharge not as a cause of action, but a defense if they tried to deny unemployment. Law school questions ask you to list all causes of action and defenses, so I defaulted to this order. Old habits die hard. :)

                1. Undercover Lady Lawyer*

                  In my state, she would have a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Since that is an intentional tort, punitive damages would be on the table. Compensatory damages could include lost wages, loss of earning capacity, medical expenses and, best of all, a jury would be able to take into account the humiliation. It would be akin to an actions liable I some ways. You can be held accountable for ruining someone’s life – that’s what happened here, this woman lost her livelihood.

                2. fposte*

                  @ULL–though presumably some of the findings will depend on what’s actually happening to her subsequently, since doesn’t she still have a duty to mitigate? So it would make a difference if she got an amazing job the next day or can’t find a good job or can’t work at all.

      3. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

        IIED, false imprisonment, battery if she was ever touched by the fake cop, and Title VII violations. Maybe defamation / slander depending on specific facts of the case. In CA you might be able to make a labor code 1050 claim if the prankers ever make statements like “oh she couldn’t take a joke” to a potential employer.
        I’m not saying she’d win at trial, but I bet she could get a decent settlement especially one of the prankers is male and they can dig up something shitty he said on social media one time. That takes you into Title VII territory.

    3. Jennifer*

      Yeah, seconded.
      How come some people can get fired for any stupid thing but these people will keep their jobs?

  12. Boo*

    Honestly, even if they did seem remorseful the whole thing just shows such terrible judgement over several stages of the “joke” (I mean at what stage did they realise this was not going well? Before or after the pretend officer showed up? – which I believe is a felony btw) which has cost the company money and risks its reputation that I’d be inclined to let them go too. I am quite enraged that OP does not have the power to do this.

    1. Boo*

      I’ve just thought of another point which I haven’t seen mentioned yet – OP it might be worth looking at your office/dept culture? I just can’t imagine something like this would happen in a vacuum. Are newbies usually hazed, is there a high turnover of junior staff?

      1. starsaphire*

        +1. This is a super important thing to be looking at.

        Because if there *is* a culture of hazing or harassment of newer employees, that needs to stop, right now, and a whole lot of re-education/training needs to happen. At a minimum.

  13. Fiennes*

    This is, to me, the most “fireable” prank I’ve seen on this site. Not only was it cruel & terrifying for the victim, but it involved (a) lying about company funds, (b) impersonation of a police officer, and (c) actual harm to the office in taking out a team member with zero notice or warning. (Not that I blame the woman for walking out. Not at all.) And people may have different reactions to fake spiders/tickling/etc; I find all of that obnoxious but can see how a misguided someone *might* think it funny. That’s impossible here. These employees should be shown the door, permanently & immediately.

    1. Mona Lisa*

      This is how I’m feeling about it, too. There are very specific instances where certain types of pranks can land well and be funny, but I fail to see how pretending to arrest someone for a major theft is going to come across as anything other traumatic for the “prankee”/victim of their terrible judgment.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      Is impersonating a police officer against the law? Even if you can’t get these jerks fired, there may be grounds for pressing charges against them, perhaps?

      1. Natalie*

        My understanding is that the jurisdiction would have to decide to press charges, I don’t think Joe Citizen is the one that gets to decide.

      2. paul*

        individual private citizens do not press criminal charges, at least in the US. It’s up to the prosecutor’s office to do that.

        She’d have to make a police report, the cops would have to take that report, the prosecutor’s office would have to review and decide to investigate it and decide it was worth their time to prosecute for what is, in most places, a fairly minor offense.

        1. Student*

          I think the police would probably, at minimum, make the two “pranksters” have a really bad day. Which, in and of itself, can be a good disincentive to them. Having some real police escort them off premises in cuffs might also be the thing that convinces bosses up the chain that this is serious enough to merit firing the two perpetrators, even if they don’t ultimately get prosecuted.

          Never underestimate the impact and value of a perp walk, or a police interview with an angry officer.

    3. Ama*

      Yeah, I’ve unfortunately been involved in three separate situations where a boss or coworker turned out to be *actually* stealing company funds, but even being tangentially caught up in investigations around those situations –with the investigating parties assuring me they knew I wasn’t at fault– was stressful and awful. I don’t know how anyone could think about this “prank” for more than five minutes without realizing how awful it was.

  14. Amelia*

    They should be fired. 2 workers who have been there 6-9 years versus one new person a few months out of school? That’s bullying the newbie and not okay. If this is 3 of the 4 people you manage, where is the 4th on all of this?

    I hope that girl does quit. I hope the OP provides an excellent reference for her. That would be so toxic to have to work with those people following this incident.

    1. Naomi*

      Yes, that’s what I was thinking–longtime employees pulling pranks on the newbie already has an unpleasant whiff of hazing about it, even before you get into the outrageousness of this particular prank.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Yes, this was cruel. So cruel that I’m wondering if the perpetrators didn’t like the victim so much that they created this “prank” to force her to quit. It’s so beyond what a prank should be and it was intended to cause suffering…it’s disgusting.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        That was my first thought, honestly. This so far into mean-girls territory, really toxic awful scalding terrible, I can’t imagine anyone on the receiving end staying in the job.

      2. Tiny Soprano*

        That’s a good point. It’s the only reason I can see why they would have kept going after she became distressed. They *wanted* her to be distressed enough to quit. Chilling behaviour, and definitely worth further investigation. Who knows how many others they drove off before they became this brazen about it?

  15. MuseumChick*

    If you cannot fire them, which would a serious consideration if I were in your position, you need 1) to have a very serious talk with them 2) Find some way to make things right with the victim of this prank.

    If it were more the talk would go like this “I am extremely disappointed in your judgement. This was in now way ok and it has caused some very seriously damage for the (company). We have potentially lost an employee because of this. Put bluntly, I concerned about keeping you on my team.”

    Keep trying to reach out to the victim, apologize, let them know that you will provide a glowing reference for them if they choose to not come back and you would seriously understand if that is what they chose. But that would you like to find a way from them to return.

  16. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    I am tripping over what might be a minor detail here, but I’m going to put this statement out here because I’m not sure. The employee who was pranked (let’s just use that word, I prefer tortured, but whatever) was a woman fresh out of college. The seasoned employees who have been in your company alone for the better part of a decade are at least ten years older than she is. One of their wives pretended to be a police officer. This makes me think that one of them was a man. So you have one man who tortures a younger, female peer as a joke. Is his counter part in this male as well? Do they typically treat women as objects of sport?
    You might have a broader issue than immaturity here.

    1. Kiki*

      Just posted about this below before seeing your comment, but THIS. It stood out to me so much. And even if the male coworker(s) didn’t intend to be sexist in their actions, I do wonder if they would pull this kind of prank on a young male coworker.

      1. Troutwaxer*

        Absolutely not. A male is much too likely to lash our physically after the prank is revealed, with uncertain consequences – is there anything heavy around? Is there anything sharp around? Don’t perform a horrible sadistic prank on your male coworker. You might get hurt.

        Females, on the other hand… Those guys were assholes!

    2. serenity*

      It’s kind of a moot point here. This “prank” was spectacularly cruel and mean-spirited and should involve termination of the two who executed it. I don’t think gender (whether the two who pulled it off are male or female) makes it any better or any worse. This was a really awful stunt.

      1. Annette*

        I don’t think the perps being both older and male is moot at all. I think screwed up gender & power dynamics are clearly at play here.

        1. serenity*

          No, they’re not “clearly” at play since we don’t know who is male and who isn’t. The “wife” could be married to a woman, so let’s not make assumptions. Cruel pranks are not relegated to a specific gender, so I’m not sure what point we’re trying to make here other than reaching to bring gender dynamics into a situation in which they may not apply at all.

    3. serenity*

      And as someone said below, assuming the wife is married to a man is rather heteronormative. She could very well be married to a woman. Either way, it really doesn’t matter.

      1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        Eh, I’m a woman married to another woman. I still think it’s more likely to be a man married to a woman and not offensively heteronormative to suppose so. Even if we suppose that 10-20% of the population are LGBTQ+, there’s still an 80-90% chance this is a male/female marriage.

    4. Observer*

      Interesting point.

      Regardless, there is no “might”- the OP DEFINITELY has a broader issue than immaturity. This was a cruel “prank” at ANY age. The problem with wing pullers has nothing to do with age. And, I don’t see this as all that much different.

    5. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I had this exact same thought. If it was men in their 30s doing this to a 20something female that adds an additional layer of “oh hell no”

    6. Lady Scorcher*

      Exactly this. It is also possible that one or both of the so-called pranksters are female, including the one with the wife. Regardless of the gender of the perpetrators, this sounds like harassment, not a prank.

    7. Guy Incognito*

      This is a terrible thing for anyone to do to anyone, and by commenting like this you are perpetuating the myth that men cannot be abused or treated poorly in the office by a female higher up. Please stop.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I don’t see how this is in anyway implying that men cannot be abused. The OP made it clear that the victim of said prank was a young woman. With the mention of one of the pranksters’ wives participating, it is not unreasonable to wonder if that means it was a case of older men harassing a younger woman and, if it is, that does make this situation even worse, especially right now when so many powerful men are finally being called out for their abusive naturse.

        1. serenity*

          How does that make this “worse”, unless there is gender harassment in play here which does not seem to be the case from the facts in the letter? This kind of discussion can very easily become derailing. This is not Harvey Weinstein behavior we’re talking about, this was a cruel prank gone very wrong.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Because if two men in their 30s pulled a cruel ‘prank’ like this on a young woman in her 20s and there were no consequences, it gives the employer a serious optics problem.

            1. serenity*

              I think the employer has a serious problem, irrespective of gender. I’m genuinely curious to hear if OP’s superiors are putting the kibosh on firings.

    8. FD*

      I did wonder, even though we don’t know the genders/races/orientations of the parties if there was something bigger.

      I have…a really hard time believing that anyone would think this is going to be funny. This feels more like hazing meant to drive someone out.

      1. FD*

        Obviously, people can be jerks to anyone, but this is so utterly bizarre that it feels like there’s other things in play. At minimum, it feels like the employees took a disliking to the newbie.

      2. Alton*

        I agree that that seems more logical, but there have been enough cases where people did stuff like this and seemed genuinely shocked that the person was upset that I can accept that some people have a really skewed perspective on this or get carried away by people who do. But I have a harder time imagining carrying the prank on past the point where it’s clear the person is upset.

    9. strawberries and raspberries*

      I had the exact same thought, and it makes me even angrier. Firing is probably the least these two assholes and their asshole wives deserve.

    10. JulieBulie*

      Hmm… if they’re both men, that would strengthen a potential lawsuit. It looks like discrimination because the company effectively sided with two men who were harassing a woman. Bingo!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The standard of proof for discrimination is usually higher than that.

        I get everyone wants to find ways this way illegal, because it was really abhorrent. But sometimes it’s just truly terrible behavior that a company should respond to because it’s terrible.

        1. Observer*

          That’s true. But given the severity of the action, and total failure of the company to do anything about it, it could certainly be a case that makes it into court, with all the attendant costs and bad PR. Also, it’s so egregious and the failure to deal with it is so bizarre, that I suspect that a lawsuit would turn up enough related problems to cause further problems for the company.

          1. serenity*

            total failure of the company to do anything about it

            Wait, we don’t know that. The OP simply said that s/he does not have the authority to fire them. There’s no indication (yet) that the company can’t or won’t do something about it.

            1. Observer*

              Well, they hadn’t done anything the op – who is their supervisor and SHOULD know about it – knows of by the time the letter was written. Even if it is ONE day, SOMETHING should have happened. And, since there has been enough time for letters to have been sent and not responded to, that means it was NOT just one day.

        2. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

          This might not be a good enough claim to win at trial, but it’s a colorable claim and one which a lot of companies and/or their insurers would prefer to settle rather than deal with adverse publicity.

    11. Junior Dev*

      Agreed, this would be awful in any circumstance, but I bet if you dig deeper you’d find a pattern of cruel behavior towards anyone perceived as lesser or other–whether that be for reasons of age, gender, being the newest employee or some other factors.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        That’s what I was thinking – was the victim “different” in any way to her attackers? I know she was younger and the attackers had been there for some time, but are there race, gender presentation, religious, disability, etc. issues as well? The perps victimizing someone different and maybe of a race or ethnicity or religion they thought “bad” or lesser or not belonging?

        OP really needs to take a good hard look at their workplace because I don’t see how it could be anything other than toxic.

    12. TootsNYC*

      “one of their wives ” actually made me think they were both men.

      It wasn’t “one of them got his wife”

      and yes, that’s a sexist power dynamic.

  17. Myrin*

    Good grief, people will never cease to amaze me.
    OP, I don’t have anything to add to Alison’s excellent script, but please know that it’s great that your opinion here seems firm and on point; with the horrible stories we hear about sometimes on here, it’s very nice to see a manager who stands behind their harmed report 100%.

  18. Czhorat*

    This is why so many of us fall into the “no pranks at work” category; it’s far, far too easy to cross the line from “team-building amusement” to “real harm”. The supposed good in allowing pepole to let their hair down in no way balances this kind of idiocy.

    Let’s all pretend that our workplaces are actually professional environments and try to act like it.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I think pranks should always punch up, not down. These were veteran employees tormenting a new employee straight out of school. That’s never cool, no matter how “funny” it is (and, in this case, not funny at all). But a light prank on your boss (assuming your boss has a sense of humor), that can be funny.

      But, yes, I would definitely always err on the side of not pranking. You’re there to work, not trick your co-workers.

      1. Wren*

        At a place I interned, a senior employee was sent a commendation by some government bureaucrat for how thoughtfully he’d filled out some kind of report. Of course the junior employees had to frame it and hang it in a very public location.

      2. Callie*

        Yes, they should always punch up! When I was a teacher, we once had a principal who was obsessed with chapstick. constantly putting it on, and he always had a tube or two with him. For his birthday one year, all of the staff/faculty bought multiple tubes of chapstick and just kept handing it to him through the day with no comment, just handing him chapstick. He thought it was hilarious.

        1. Former Hoosier*

          And these kind of pranks are truly funny. Nothing offensive, just a small goodnatured gesture that is also funny.

    2. Lore*

      Yes. And I think also, there is no overlap in the Venn diagram between “people who would come up with a prank such as this” and “people who have the good judgment to distinguish between a work-appropriate prank and a horrifying one.” So there’s really no way to get bad-prank people to calibrate their actions appropriately other than “no pranks at work.”

    3. paul*

      I have a hard time thinking they really meant this as a “prank” in the funny sense. I mean, even granting spectacularly bad judgement is always on the table, they kept it up when she was sobbing and vomiting…

      1. Perse's Mom*

        Perhaps they’re fans of terrible youtube “pranksters.” This seems like a page taken from that sort of awfulness playbook.

  19. Kiki*

    Sorry for the second comment, but I re-read the letter and the line “They went so far as to get one of their wives to pretend to be a police officer”. That means at least one of the prankers was male, possibly both. Imagining this young woman in her first job out of college being bullied in this way by older men on her team is making me see red.

      1. NotThatGardner*

        seconding, i think it’s pretty important to note that one of the prankers having a wife *in no way* means that the person is male.

    1. Tuesday Next*

      I don’t think it would have been any less traumatic if the bullies were women (assuming they were in fact men).

  20. Jane!Jane!*

    I am aghast at the cruelty of this! How anyone could think this would be amusing is beyond me. I’ve worked in some toxic environments but never in any where this prank would go over well.
    The “pranksters ” ought to be terminated immediately.

    1. Corky's wife Bonnie*

      I am too, and if this poor girl has a sick mother, she’s already stressed without something cruel like this adding to her plate!

  21. Observer*

    If the people above you don’t see this as a firing offense, you might want to reconsider the culture of your office and start looking elsewhere. This kind of behavior is beyond toxic. And management that allows it to happen without consequences is, at the very least, complicit. I don’t care how “nice” someone is – this is outrageous and inexcusable behavior.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Yes. No matter how much wrist-slapping there is after this, if these people aren’t fired, that tells them everything they need to know about their behavior, and that should also tell the OP everything she/he needs to know about the company.

  22. (Different) Rebecca*

    Woooowwwww… I wish I had a more constructive comment, but I don’t. I’m straight up flabbergasted.

    1. sstabeler*

      at least this is a case where the OP clearly understands that the moron “pranksters” (I put pranksters in quotes as frankly, they don’t show an understanding of what an actual prank would be.) deserve to be fired. the OP said if they had the choice, they would have immediately fired the pranksters. In far too many cases, the pranksters are let off by their manager.

  23. Foreign Octopus*

    That poor employee.

    To have this happen at any time would be horrible but for someone new to the workplace, who has likely not made many minor mistakes before, let alone one like this, I can absolutely understand her reaction. The prank should never have taken place but it definitely should have stopped when she started crying. There is nothing funny about making other people cry. And to go so far as to have one of their wives come in and pretend to arrest her? Ridiculous.

    I agree with Alison that firing shouldn’t be used as a punishment. However, their judgement here is so flawed that if I didn’t fire them, they would be on very, very thin ice for the indefinite future. All of the trust I’d had in them would be gone and they would have to work incredibly hard to rebuild it.

    As for the afflicted employee, it’s difficult if she’s not reachable but some way needs to be found to make it clear to her that this is definitely not the way that your office is run and that you’re incredibly sorry for what happened. Make it as easy as possible for her to come back and, if she decides to leave (and I wouldn’t blame her if she did) make sure you do everything in your power to make it easy for her.

    Good luck, OP, and please do send us an update of how this goes.

    1. sstabeler*

      I think it’s more a case of the firing not being to punish them for their actions as such, but because their actions mean they can no longer be trusted to do their jobs.

  24. Qxcl*

    I’m surprised Alison didn’t mention this (and it sounds like you may have already done it) but I think it would be nice to reach out to the prankee and apologize profusely. And offer a reference if she wants it. Not for absolution, just because it’s the right thing to do.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I assumed they’d already done that (the OP says she won’t answer calls or letters, which I assumed were attempts to apologize and see how she is) but if I’m wrong, they should do it now.

    2. CM*

      Ideally, they would reach out to the prankee, apologize profusely, AND say that the two people have been fired and they sincerely hope that she will choose to return, and will be fully paid for the time she spent out of the office without deducting it from her PTO, but they understand if she chooses not to and will offer her a glowing reference.

      1. CM*

        Oh, also maybe throw in that the company had nothing to do with this and is horrified and would have shut it down immediately and are examining their work culture to try to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.

  25. Lady Phoenix*

    If law enforcement is involved (or pretending to be involved), then it is not a good prank… like… AT ALL.

    Frankly, I would fore them just for that. If their wife pretended to be a cop, then that is illegal. If the wife WAS a cop, that is a waste of services.

      1. Jayne*

        I have had officers joke about arresting me, but only in situations where is it very clear to anybody around that I am not detained in any way. Also, they know that I am safe to joke with, ie, will not file a complaint on them. In fact, my response was, “come and get me, copper!” However, that trust was developed over a decade of interaction.

        In my organization, we had a semi-active group of pranksters. The closest they ever got to this situation was asking an officer to go to a supervisor and saying that they had to talk to a report. He made it seem very urgent, but the prank was over when he started to talk (in a chit chat way) to the report (who he knew). The prank was actually on the supervisor, in the spirit of punching up, not on the report. If the supervisor had been upset, the prank would have been cut short immediately.

  26. Former Usher*

    If the OP can’t actually fire the pranksters, what about simply making them think they’re fired? As a prank, of course.

    1. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Yeah, escalating pranks (and I hate all pranks) never ends well but it would be sort of entertaining to hear an update that the original victim plotted with the OP or grandboss or whomever to have the pranksters get fake fired and then on their way out the door tell them that the cops are at the wife’s house arresting her for impersonating a police officer.

    2. Liane*

      I’d be tempted to joke that they were being kept on for one more chance–then fire them.

      But yeah, don’t actually do this. It’s totally in the “Great Fantasy, But Actually Doing So Is Unprofessional And Jerky” category.

  27. Chatterby*

    The first and last rule of pranking is “Do no harm”.
    Whatever is done should be able to easily be undone.

    1. Perse's Mom*

      Wait, you mean “it’s just a prank!” doesn’t magically wipe out the horror of this event for the victim?! Next you’ll tell me “it’s just a joke” doesn’t retroactively make -ist jokes NOT -ist!

      /heavy sarcasm

    2. Larina*

      I’ve always been fond of the rule “confuse, don’t abuse.” It’s funny when one of my coworkers hides a new penny every day in the boss’s office, so that he randomly says “another one?” whenever he finds them. It’s not funny whenever you do anything that could potentially hurt someone, in any meaning of the word hurt.

    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Very similar, my pranking rule is “Confuse, don’t abuse.”

      Surrealist pranks can be fun (think “I changed all your cubicle decorations to pictures of giraffes” or “I taped Nicholas Cage’s face over every picture in the cafeteria”) but ones that cause distress are just evil.

  28. Susan the BA*

    If this happened in my office and the perpetrators weren’t fired or at least severely punished in some very public way (demoted? unpaid leave?), I would be looking for a new job even if I wasn’t the victim here. If management just lets this slide they’re sending a message to the whole office that this kind of thing could happen to anyone and it would be acceptable. No way would I feel secure in that environment.

    1. depizan*

      Exactly. This wasn’t some kind of minor prank that resulted in a bigger than expected reaction. And what it says about the employees who committed it would make it somewhere between difficult and impossible to work with them afterwards. For the company to just ignore it makes the company look just as untrustworthy and terrible.

    2. SamKD*

      Yes. Me too. Even as a boss, even knowing it would be hard to find another position.
      If this had happened in my department the two sadists would have been out on administrative leave immediately as soon as I found out about it. Even if I didn’t have authority to fire them I could at least keep their toxic presence away from the rest of the workforce till the matter was settled. I would also be burning all the workplace capital I had to make sure they -did- get fired with cause.

  29. JB*

    -You- can’t fire them, but that’s not the question. The question is, why hasn’t the person who does have the power to fire them done so already?

    Also, IANAL but depending on the details the actual police ought to visit the wife for her part in this.

    1. MCM*

      Does OP’s company have a human resources? If I was the recipient of such a horrible, mean spirited prank I would have been filing a grievance so fast your head would spin. A prank like this could cause someone to have a heart attack. Am also wondering if there was some underlying tension among the players in this sage that the OP might have been aware of.

    2. HR Jeanne*

      I agree. Who in your company with the power to fire these employees has made the decision not to? This makes no sense. I would not trust these employees with even the smallest judgement calls after this horrible choice. I would also be pushing back HARD to fire them.
      If they were my direct reports, they would be feeling serious consequences for this cruel prank.

  30. MCM*

    They should get put on probation for a year if this is their first offense & they are good performers. OP, do you have any idea why they thought to pull a mean prank on a new, inexperienced employee? You might want to float this issue past your company’s attorney. Because if their pranksters were all male & their co-workers are all male; or if the woman is of a different race, etc., the company could find themselves with a lawsuit.

  31. wayward*

    With this story (and some of the other accounts I’ve read about bullying in the workplace), it seems like failing to impose serious consequences sends the message that anything goes. What if the target had turned around and retaliated in an even more over-the-top way? How could management credibly say that anything was unacceptable?

    1. MCM*

      So true. I have a horrible boss. You do not know how I’ve dreamed of supergluing her in her office, with the door shut. Never do it, but that though helps when she’s in the full snake mode.

  32. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Does anyone remember the pilot of The Office? This same thing happened, and guess what? It wasn’t funny then either. Michael Scott’s/David Brent’s reaction in the scene demonstrated a zillion reasons why this specific prank is never a good idea. Add in a fake police offer and…WTF?

    Here’s another fantastic reason: even if you know someone well, you probably don’t know their emotional or health history. Some people can be prone to anxiety attacks, fainting, PTSD, flashbacks, heart attacks, etc. in emotionally-charged situations. That’s why the chorus of, “But we didn’t know!” fails to pass the sniff test.

    1. k.k*

      Reading this story made me think that these people had watched too many workplace comedies and have a serious misunderstanding of fiction vs. reality.

    2. MCM*

      Could be arrested for impersonating a police officer? Maybe someone should mention to the pranksters that they heard that charges were made against the wife for that. I hadn’t thought about it, but the recipient of the mean joke could have filed a police report.

    3. Blue Anne*

      Yeah. And “but we didn’t know!” wouldn’t have held legal water if they’d caused this poor lady to have a heart attack or something, either.

  33. small jar of fireflies*

    “Honey, I need you to come to work, impersonate a police officer, and carry out a mock arrest on the new person.”


    I’d consider seeing about the family involved not being allowed to return if this is the kind of thing they’ll get up to. Honestly, if the amount weren’t so large I would think the coworkers were covering for an attempted extortion. Are you sure they weren’t trying to coerce her into something?

    1. Say what, now?*

      I would agree. Part of my talk with the employee would involve that his spouse was no longer allowed to visit since her judgment of what was appropriate behavior was so impaired. I’m a little shocked that she would risk her husband’s employment to be part of this “joke.”

    2. small jar of fireflies*

      I read it again. They didn’t stop when she threw up. They stopped when she insisted she be allowed to contact someone from outside.

      Either they were going to kidnap her or something really bad was going to go down. Contact a lawyer, OP. This was never a prank.

      1. anon24*

        This is… a really scary point. If she wouldn’t have asked to contact someone, when would the “joke” have stopped?

        1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

          It’s possible, but I honestly don’t think so. If the plan was to upset her, then they would probably have stopped when she vomited. But she was insisting on contacting her mother, which meant someone was expecting her, which meant people would start asking questions if she didn’t show up. That was when it ended.

          I truly hope I’m wrong and that these people just have zero judgement in anything and don’t know when to stop. I really do hope that’s all it is. But this particular detail is setting off all my alarm bells.

      2. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        Exactly. They were trying to get her to go to a second location. These people likely had something very ugly planned.

  34. CBH*

    I am furious for the victim… and for OP. What the heck! First OP I’m glad that you are pissed off and trying to right a wrong even with your hands tied. I’m sorry but in the workplace where you really don’t know your coworkers, especially one that has only been there a few months, a prank of this nature is beyond unprofessional; especially a prank where someone is physically, mentally and emotionally getting ill. How could these jokes possibly think it is hysterical? I’m just baffled. Honestly I hope the victim sues these coworkers and their wives for emotional distress. I think they have a good case. I feel like my post is rambling but I am just perplexed at how unprofessional, uncaring and overall lack of common decency these coworkers show. OP please keep working to right things with the victim and to reprimand (my choice would be firing, no unemployment) the pranksters.

  35. Say what, now?*

    Holy crap this is bad. I know she’s not responding to letters or calls but I think it would be a kindness to offer her the best possible reference. Maybe just send her a note with your contact information and an assurance that you will attest to the quality of her work and a promise not to mention the circumstances of her leaving (I assume that she would be worried that you’d mention that she left without notice, but of course under the circumstances that’s not really a mark against her). After you make that offer leave it alone but I’d do it since it’s the only thing that you have to rectify the situation for her.

    1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      I agree. I would also include that you were unaware of the prank, are horrified by it, would have put a stop to it if you’d known, and are taking whatever steps you can to ensure it never happens again. Even if she knows you weren’t involved (it’s not clear to me whether she does), it would be kind to make it clear that you’re firmly on her side. She may or may not take you up on the offer for a reference, but I think it’s the only way to do right by her if you aren’t able to fire the employees who pranked her.

      Sorry your idiot employees put you in this situation, OP.

    2. Elbe*

      Agreed. That’s something that the OP can do even if the higher-ups drop the ball as far as actual discipline goes.

      The OP should also check to see if there’s some way that they could give her severance or allow her to qualify for unemployment. This poor woman has a sick mother and now she’s out of a job. And she probably still has student loans.

    3. Texan at Heart*

      I think this is a great idea. Also, I don’t know if letters of reference are a thing in your field (they are in mine), it might be nice to just send a glowing letter of reference along with the letter in the suggestion above. Since she clearly doesn’t want to have a conversation about it, this may be a way for her to feel supported as much as possible in such a terrible situation and know that you are genuine in your desire to help her move on.

    4. TootsNYC*

      In addition to writing a personal letter to her that simply said, “I enjoyed working with you over these months, and I have X admiration for Y skills and abilities. I would consider it an honor to speak of these to any future employer who might need to contact a former manager for a reference for you. I wish you all the best.”

      However, what *I* would do is contact all the people that I personally know in my own field and say, “I know someone young who needs a new job. She worked for me for a brief bit and was a good employee, but her employment ended through no fault of hers. I feel really bad about it, and was pleased to have her work for me, so I want to help her out. Could I forward her resume to you?”

      Or something–I’d try to find some way to say, “The reason she’s leaving my employ isn’t because of anything she’s done.” And pass it off as “the budget got cut” or something.

  36. JKP*

    “asked to phone someone to go stay with her sick mother while she was in custody.”

    This woman is dealing with caregiving for a sick parent and fresh out of school. She probably can’t afford to be out of work for even one week. Even if you don’t have the authority to fire the pranksters, I hope there’s something you can do to make the poor victim whole. And someone there must be able to fire these two, and I can’t believe that they wouldn’t if they heard the full story.

    1. Say what, now?*

      I thought the same. She is probably carrying at least some of the financial burden of her mother’s illness. But my sense is that if the OP can’t fire someone, he/she can’t approve the expenditure either. Their hands might be tied.

    2. Bow Ties Are Cool*

      I wouldn’t look askance at her suing this company, or at OP for testifying on her behalf if she does.

  37. Fiona*

    I am finding myself to be so upset by this. It really crosses the line and if your higher-ups can’t see how this is a fireable offense, I would think deeply about what kind of organization you work for. It’s one thing to keep the joke going after the target was clearly panicking, but then bringing in an outsider to pose as an officer? Fireable offense, in my mind, 100% no questions asked.

    Second, as far as pranks go in the workplace, I always feel it’s useful to ask “Is this…worth it?” Like, if this prank goes wrong or if I accidentally misjudge how someone will perceive it, it could cause hurt feelings and awkwardness and pain and more. If I choose NOT to do the prank, what is lost? Perhaps 45 seconds of chuckling by your colleagues? It just never seems to be worth it to take that risk, especially in a workplace, when the best possible outcome isn’t even that enticing.

    1. nep*

      ALL this.
      (Pranks in the workplace — just…why? Agree — not worth it. And basically a waste of time and energy.)

    2. MidwestRoads*

      I agree completely with your first paragraph. If I were the OP, the handling of the situation by the higher-ups would definitely influence whether or not I’d be continuing my employment or handing in a resignation letter.

      OP, please please please send an update when you have one.

  38. Xarcady*

    I’m wondering if this was an isolated incident. To me, it’s odd the “pranksters” would start with such an elaborate prank. It is possible that there was some bullying behavior towards the new employee before this “prank,” because it just seems unusual that this level of bullying would happen out of the blue.

    If this was the victim’s first real job, she might not have known the norms of office behavior. She might have felt there was no one to lodge a complaint with. She might have felt she needed to deal with their behavior on her own, to show that she deserved a place in the office.

    I also wonder if she was in some way showing up the work of an older employee, and this was revenge.

    Possibly the employee not involved in the incident could shed some light on this.

    1. CM*

      I wondered too about whether this is part of a larger pattern of bullying that the OP doesn’t know about. Especially when I read the detail about how everybody else has been working together for years and she’s a fresh grad, new to the office.

      1. FD*

        Yeah. And especially if most other people have been working together for years, she might have felt that no one would be sympathetic to her complaints, or might not believe her.

        I have a really hard time believing this went from ‘no issues’ to PRETENDING TO ARREST HER. I feel like they were probably harassing her (at least in the general sense even if not the legal sense) for a long time before it got to this level.

    2. One of the Sarahs*

      Yes, I agree, it seems really unlikely (though of course not impossible) to just start with something at this level.

      If I were OP, I’d be doing some serious investigation into office culture, across the business.

  39. Tuxedo Cat*

    I think it’s most important to correct what happened the best you can (and I think firing is the only way), but this has so many bigger impacts to the general office… If I were an employee there, I’d worry whether I was going to be the next victim or how much I could really trust them.

  40. JoJo*

    Impersonating a police officer is a crime. If I were the victim, I’d file a report and let the law deal with the ‘pranksters’.

  41. Falling Diphthong*

    Do they continue to insist that they meant well and it’s not their fault that their coworker didn’t react as planned?

    This hits at something that has either expanded in recent years, or that I just flinch at a lot harder than I once did–the insistence that intent is all that really matters. Not outcomes, not easily foreseeable outcomes, just what was in someone’s head as the obvious outcome. Failures of reality to conform to that vision, or of other people to grasp how great and foolproof the idea was, are failures of understanding on the part of everyone else. (There is a whole pile of ethics research on the evolution from “Spilling the milk was bad” to “Spilling the milk was an accident, not on purpose” to “Spilling the milk was an accident, but it still needs to be cleaned up and now we have no milk.”)

    1. fposte*

      Isn’t there also work on the diffusion of responsibility in a group situation? Because I’m betting that there was some mutual egging on here. OP, if you can’t fire, can you separate the two perpetrators as much as possible? It’s not like you need a cover story.

    2. hbc*

      I think it can certainly be debated how much intent matters, but I think it’s right to keep it a factor in how we judge actions. I’m going to be yelling at the guy who deliberately poured milk on the floor versus the one who spilled it by accident, even if he cleans it up. Breaking someone’s leg in a freak soccer collision is different than running up and stomping their knee.

      But yeah, if the guy doesn’t mean to spill the milk but set the gallon down hanging off the edge of the counter, he’s paying for the replacement, and maybe getting banned from the kitchen same as the deliberate milk pourer.

    3. Observer*

      Alison is actually calling this out – She explicitly says that if they acknowledge their misbehavior it DOES NOT excuse them but maybe “you have something to work with.” If they can’t even acknowledge it and still claim that it was really ok because it was “just a joke”, then forget it.

  42. beanie beans*

    If they can’t be fired, can they be demoted or put into a different job? I can’t imagine having to continue to supervise someone responsible for this kind of behavior.

  43. Elbe*

    So they kept the ‘joke’ going even after she vomited? And only ended it when she mentioned her sick mother?

    These people are out of their minds. They would have to be seriously repentant and ashamed in order for me to even consider NOT firing them.

    Even if she doesn’t pick up the phone or return calls, I think someone should send her a message that these people were disciplined, just for her own peace of mind. She’s young and needs to know that what happened to her is not okay.

  44. legalchef*

    Acceptable office pranks: Things like using the keyboard shortcut to flip the image on the monitor or putting something over the “eye” of the computer mouse so it seems like it isn’t working.

    Unacceptable office pranks: Anything that might make someone cry.

    I can’t believe that there are grown adults who lack this much common sense (I don’t doubt the veracity of the letter. It just boggles my mind that people like this exist).

    1. Cath*

      I will also accept “changing your desktop wallpaper when you leave your computer unlocked.” That’s about it.

    2. Noobtastic*

      I once put a bunch of “sign here” stickers on about two reams of papers, put a real document for signature on top, and put the whole stack in my boss’ inbox.

      His laughter was long and loud, and he actually signed a few of the blank pages, just for kicks.

      Then we went paperless, and all the forms were online, with electronic signatures. Darn. Although that sure made my job a lot easier, so Yay!

  45. The Other Dawn*

    I honestly cannot imagine not firing the pranksters. That prank shows such terrible judgment, I don’t think I’d ever trust them with anything ever again. It’s really a shame OP doesn’t having firing power. If someone above her doesn’t take this seriously, then I would say she needs to think about whether she wants to continue working at this company.

  46. Lady Phoenix*

    To break this down, when you report it to HR:
    1. They claimed that company money was missing
    2. They pinned it on the new employee (illegal)
    3. They had someone pretend to be a cop (illegal)
    4. Said “cop” arrested employee (super illegal)
    5. Employee suffered emotional and even physical distress
    6. They still continued with the prank despite the damage

    So yeah, super fired and possibly charged with impersonating an officer and false imprisonment (and sued for… libel?).

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      +1 This is what you need to discuss with your higher-ups, though you should add the gender issue (two men pranking a younger female) if it’s true.

    2. McWhadden*

      “sued for… libel?).”

      How about intentional infliction of emotional distress. That’s a tough one to make stick because the actions have to be outrageous but I think this fact pattern fits! (Some jurisdictions don’t have this tort anymore though.)

  47. Finman*

    My favorite office prank was when all of the non-management staff wore a red shirt and black pants on a day that there was a management meeting. It took about 1.5 hours for the CEO to realize what had happened and had a good laugh.

        1. Onyx*

          I’m not sure that the specific colors were part of the prank. It sounds to me like the prank may just have been all dressing alike, and waiting for management to notice. Especially since Finman specified a “management meeting” when the prank was among non-management staff–it seems likely that the managers didn’t see them all at once, which would have made it obvious, but just kept running into individual after individual in red shirt and black pants until it finally clicked that it couldn’t be coincidental.

  48. NF*

    OP, when you have a conversation with whoever has the authority to fire these employees, I’d make the point that they manufactured a massive optics problem for your company. Not only did they exhibit terrible judgment, behave in a breathlessly cruel manner, drive out an employee, waste company time, etc., but have now planted a seed with observers that your company is engaged in wrongdoing. By enlisting an actor specifically to stage a PUBLIC PERFORMANCE OF PUNISHMENT FOR FINANCIAL CHICANERY, they exponentially increased the chances that this “prank” will damage the company’s reputation. Unless you routinely have law enforcement officials coming to your place of work, the optics of this are terrible, and people will talk. Make this point in your meeting: you cannot control that narrative now.

  49. Observer*

    OP, as others have mentioned you should point out to your superiors that NOT firing the perpetrators could open them to legal trouble. There are two issues here.

    1. Someone impersonated a police officer. By looking the other way, it looks like the company is ok with it. Even if it ultimately works out, it could still create major issues for a while.

    2. If the pranksters are male and / or of a different race / other class covered by law, or the victim was perceived to be disabled etc. then the company could easily get sued. Normally, harassment has to be “pervasive” but if it’s severe, even one incident could be enough. And this IS severe. Also, even though the people are probably not considered supervisors for legal purposes, the fact that the company found out about the action and did nothing about it allows the victim to claim that the company was ok with harassment.

    They also have a potential PR nightmare on their hands. And, if either legal issue comes to pass, then the likelihood of this going public and turning into a PR dumpster fire goes waaay up.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      On #2, she would need to be able to show that she was targeted because of her race, gender, or disability. If there had been other harassment of her on that basis, she might be able to! But there are no details in the letter that indicate that.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        I don’t think Observer is trying to make the actual legal case, just proposing the OP have the company cover its bases just in case.

      2. JamieS*

        I’m curious about this. If she, or anybody really, alleges discrimination is the onus on the alleged victim to prove they were discriminated against or on the company to show they weren’t discriminated against?

        1. McWhadden*

          They have to make a prima facie showing that they were discriminated against. If she manages that then the burden shifts to the employer to prove it wasn’t.

          We don’t really know anything to suggest discrimination in this matter. But if there were facts to suggest they discriminated against her based on her race or gender (like she’s the only one targeted in such a cruel manner after other comments were made about her race or gender) she could have a prima facie case.

      3. Raven*

        Even if it isn’t a legal slam dunk, a savvy attorney could bring the case and try to get the company to settle or go through a long drawn out legal process with company winning maybe but still spending legal fees that could be more than what it cost to settle (but it’s unlikely they’d go to bat for the employees)… Either way there’s exposure for the company and a huge pr nightmare.

      4. Observer*

        I didn’t say she would win – but I do think she would have enough of a case to warrant some exploration. It wouldn’t take much to make a strong enough case to take it to court. The prank was SO outrageous, SO elaborately planned and allowed to go on for SO long, that it’s going to be very easy to make the case that it was clearly NOT “all in good fun.” All it really takes to kick this up to a possibly winnable case is one negative comment about women (or “girls”) or people of her race, ethnicity, religion or whatever protected characteristic. At that point, it would be unlikely that it would get dismissed, and taking a case to court is EXPENSIVE, even when you win.

        Certainly, this is a likely enough scenario that the Bosses should be thinking about it, and talking to their lawyers about.

  50. Dolphn Girl*

    I’m at work sitting with a co-worker talking how the jokesters would be perp walked out of here with no severance, no references , no nothing. My heart breaks for this poor girl who will carry this with her at every job she has in the future. How does ANYONE think this is funny or a good use of time or energy? Just when you think you have heard of stupid things to do, someone proves there are worse things out there.

    LW PLEASE send a follow up as I can’t be the only one hoping for justice!

  51. jv*

    The fact that the victim is so young upsets me so much. This is her time to develop her confidence and decide who she wants to be professionally. It’s such an important period and now she may be ruined for life :-/

    Your employees are bullies and should be punished as such. They used such poor judgement and should have some of their responsibilities revoked and possibly be demoted so they can learn a lesson here. I would put them all on notice and work with HR to put some behavior plans in place. Personally I’d probably fire some people too but we don’t all have that luxury as even though they are horrible people, they still have to do a job until you can find a replacement.

    1. Tuxedo Cat*

      I don’t think she’s necessarily “ruined for life”. No doubt this will be a scarring experience and one she’ll never forget. However, I think she can recover. I think it’s important if the letter writer gets in touch with the victim, that the letter writer expresses how disgusted she is at the perpetrators and empathy for the victim but not to indicate that the victim is ruined in any fashion.

    1. Liane*

      These folks, as we roleplaying game players say, picked Wisdom and Intelligence as dump-stats. Which means they are stupid enough to take pictures and post them all over the place.

  52. the prank was not appropriate in any case*

    I know this is a very different but maybe in the smallest way similar… Anyone remember the AAM post about the employee who had something lewd written on her cast in permanent marker? I’m trying to find the post and it’s update in the archives.

    For some reason I immediately thought of that post when reading this one. Supervisor / manager trying to do the right thing with limited authority; justifiably the victim (most likely) not returning to work and is now in an awkward situation for something they didn’t do; the idiotic offender not thinking consequences through.

    I keep wondering what people are thinking. A prank outside the work place between friends isn’t appropriate in the workplace. Ugh!

    OP my sentiments are the same as most above. Please keep us posted.

    1. Say what, now?*

      Weirdly, it brought the same to mind for me as well! Not that this is a sexual harassment issue but just the nature of the “joke” being so malicious and then of course the issue of management’s hands being tied. I said it up post but I’ll say it again, companies should not place managers in a position unless they are able to take meaningful action in disciplinary issues. You completely undermine the manager’s ability to protect his/her group from internal problems.

    2. nonegiven*

      First one I thought of was the basic white girl Halloween costume with the other employee’s name tag.

      Then, I thought of the woman thrown under a car by the bird guy.

    3. anycat*

      i legit have a cast on right now and have held off on having people sign it for my fear that someone would do this to me.

  53. nep*

    These are the cases that make me wish karma were real — if it is, may they get theirs. Holy F, just no words.

  54. Cyberspace Dreamer*

    This is really bad, really . . . .

    This brings to my mind ancient proverb that refers to a person who causes considerable harm to another with the excuse that they were only sporting or joking.

  55. WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot*

    This is absolutely outrageous! I am all for very harmless office pranks. I work in a very small office (4 people) and pranked my co-worker by putting a sticky note under his mouse. He did the same to me when I got back from vacation. Both laughed, thought it was funny. Harmless! Making someone believe they broke the law is just too cruel for words.

    1. Cube Ninja*

      I’ve done similar, but using a moist towlette single pack. Said coworker also had a strong dislike for the word “moist”, so it was a double whammy. :)

      That’s a fun prank. I don’t even have words for what happened in this letter.

  56. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    I really wish there was a way to do a find-and-replace on this entire thread. This wasn’t a prank. It was an attack.

    1. small jar of fireflies*

      I can’t get over the part where the woman wanted to call someone to look after her mother BECAUSE SHE WAS ABOUT TO LEAVE WORK WITH SOMEONE SHE THOUGHT WAS A POLICE OFFICER.

      That’s kidnapping! And false arrest, but it’s kidnapping!

      1. Luna*

        It really makes me wonder what the step step of this “prank” was- did they not think it would get that far? Or were they planning to take it further and actually bring her somewhere but stopped early because of her insistence that she needed to call someone?

  57. boop the first*

    I would be so embarrassed to be the wife in that situation. I can’t imagine what kind of weird reasoning coworker had to come up with to convince a complete outsider to act this out. I feel like at the point where someone is sobbing, she should have turned around and said “uhhh… is this right?” Did they tell her that the victim regularly eats kittens or something?

    1. ArtK*

      Jerks often marry jerks. If this is the level of “humor” that the men find funny, it’s not surprising that their wives would find it funny, too.

  58. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    Imagine the Glassdoor review. “We accuse co-workers of theft and threaten them with arrest to the point of a physical breakdown. So be sure to bring your sense of humour to this job.”

  59. colette*

    I was once pranked on April Fools. I was made to believe that I was responsible for the office having caught fire. It was one of the worst moments of my life. Pranks like that are never funny; they just create a horrible moment for someone to remember forever.

    1. Kali*

      I accidentally did that to someone was. :( In a shared house, my housemate had accidentally set the fire alarm off while she was cooking. A week or two later, I saw a fire engine parked outside – this was student halls, so lots of buildings surrounding a carpark – and snapped a picture of it and sent it to the group chat with the comment “X, what did you do? :o”. I assumed it would be obvious that there wasn’t a fire because I’d taken the picture still inside the flat, the fire engine was on the other side of the car park, and I thought my tone was too casual to be mistaken for real. I can’t remember if I assumed she was home at the time and so would also know that there were no sirens or alarms going off. Anyway, she sent a panicked reply and I immediately apologised and told her that nothing had happened, it was just a fire engine parked outside. I apologised again as soon as I saw her and she forgave me. Though she did take me out for chicken feet.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      …was there an actual fire and they made you think you were responsible? Or was their no fire and that part was part of the prank too?

    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I “pranked” my parents on April Fools by telling them that I was not going to graduate college on time and would need to either drop out or stay for another year.

      I got my comeuppance when it took me half an hour to convince my mother that I was joking and she didn’t need to call the university president and throw an epic fit. Her genuine rage on my behalf showed me how unfunny I was.

  60. CatCat*

    Awful, awful, awful. Honestly, if I were OP, I would be looking to work elsewhere rather than a place where this is not a fireable offense.

    I’d be pretty icy with my reports after this. I mean, not only are they cruel, but how can you trust them to exercise judgment on anything at this point? I wouldn’t. And I couldn’t work in that environment long term.

    I hope the departed employee puts this biz up on something like glassdoor. The natural consequence to the company for tolerating this behavior is that their reputation is trashed.

  61. Tomato Frog*

    And the goal of the prank can’t be to scare the person, make them look foolish, or make them thinking something terrible is happening to them.

    Not relevant to this particular prank, but another rule to follow: a good prank can’t make someone think something wonderful is happening to them, and then pull the rug out from under them.

    1. KellyK*

      Ooh, good point. Realizing that you didn’t actually win the lottery or get a big promotion is almost as bad as thinking that something horrible is happening.

      1. Liane*

        “Ooh, good point. Realizing that you didn’t actually win the lottery or get a big promotion is almost as bad as thinking that something horrible is happening”
        A poster in one of the annual Office Holiday threads wrote about a young woman coworker who got a fake 6 or 7 figure winning lottery ticket in a secret Santa. She called up her father telling him their money worries were over before the jerky giver told her it was fake. IIRC, that victim also didn’t stay much longer at the company.

        Honestly, we have had so many Jerky Coworker stories this year. I have lost track of the number of times that I read a letter and thought, “Ick. Alison could have a 2017 Worst Coworker poll to go along with the 2017 Worst Boss poll.”

      2. Noobtastic*

        Classic high school mean girl prank: Convince the football captain to ask the unpopular girl to prom, and then stand her up. This is even worse if the unpopular girl winds up refusing another invitation to prom, because she’s already “taken.”

    2. Say what, now?*

      Yes, if they would be devastated to find that the thing hadn’t actually taken place it’s not a good prank.

    3. Aphrodite*

      Over on Etiquette Hell there was once a post by someone whose aunt was on a strict budget and would have loved but could not afford a Kindle. The family was going to buy her one but the OP’s mother wanted to play a practical joke that went this like: Buy the Kindle and hid it. Wrap up a Kindle cover and hint and tease the aunt to the point of making her think she was getting a Kindle and was very excited about it. Then on Christmas morning hand her the beautifully wrapped cover in the box the Kindle came in and let her unwrap it. Enjoy her embarrassment, humiliation and grief. Then bring out the real Kindle.

      OP was appalled at her mother and family who thought this was funny. She asked for advice on whether she should warn her aunt of the trick. Every poster there was angry and upset and advised her to tell her aunt what was going to happen if she couldn’t convince her mother to not do it.

      There was no update but I have often wondered what happened. It still makes me sick to this day to think about how that aunt would have felt and how Christmas might likely have been ruined forever for her.

      1. Aphrodite*

        Oh, and the family was going to wait a half-hour before giving her the Kindle so they had plenty of time to enjoy the “joke.”

        1. Nita*

          I suspect that prank would have failed miserably! If you have no Kindle and someone gives you a Kindle cover, it’s reasonable to assume they’re also planning to give you a Kindle (but do not have it in hand for some reason). Kind of like if someone gives you car keys, there’s probably a new car parked in the driveway.

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

            Way back at the dawn of time when CDs were the cool new expensive thing (I was like 10 or 12), my friend’s parents wrapped up a few CDs for her birthday. Her Dad kept saying “no, they’re just tiny records! they’ll play just fine on your record player!”. I played along, saying “well, maybe we can take them back and exchange them or something”. Friend was genuinely confused about why her parents would buy her music that she couldn’t play.

            Of course, they had bought her a new CD player and it was hidden elsewhere and brought out in the “oh look what I found in the coat closet! how’d that get there?” kind of silliness.

            I could maaaaybe see giving someone a case for the Kindle and saying all fake innocently “oh, I thought you already had one! Maybe they’ll be on sale after Christmas?” and then a minute or so later pulling out the box that you “forgot” or that “Santa must have dropped behind the sofa” or whatever. But not waiting ages to “enjoy” their disappointment. That’s just mean.

    4. nonegiven*

      Any level of pranking is starting to look like a bad idea to me. It just gives cover to people who pull things like this and claim it was just a joke.

  62. Rachael*

    I think that we have some prank shows to blame for this type of “prank”. I LOVE pranks. But, I firmly believe that you should never prank someone in a way where they have a heightened emotional response. No “I scared you to much you thought you would die” pranks. No “you are going to jail” pranks…and such. That is NOT a prank. That is a way to make your self delight in the misery someone feels. Plus, I keep the pranks to family and friends only. That way, I know if they would like the prank. If the friend is a coworker, than I may prank at work…..but it is a prank on a friend. These are pranks that both people should laugh at and feel good at the end (such as Vaseline on the handset, or messing with someone’s tape dispenser) etc. It should never be a “psych! Now you can stop crying or having an emotional meltdown!”

    1. Say what, now?*

      Reminds me of the “prank proposal” a few years back where the guy made his girlfriend think he was dead. Then he comes out and pops the question. To cap it off, she said yes! I think you’re right in saying that media has done a lot to skew people’s thinking of what’s ok. Something like this where a guy makes his girlfriend feel horrible and then gets exactly what he wants… well, that sets up weird expectations.

  63. GarlicMicrowaver*

    Regardless, these two charming geniuses have created a hostile working environment and resentment will surely ensue; it already has. If they stay, you have to restructure the team so they don’t work with the report upon which the joke was cast. You can’t put it on the report to “get over it” and “forget” as that’s not fair. It would also show a severe lack of disciplinary action taken. Fire them or transfer them. That’s how I see it.

  64. Anon Mouse*

    I don’t understand pranks where the target is meant to think that something terrible has happened. I post years ago on a Friday open thread about a prank in my office, which I miraculously found, and will copy here. But seriously, pranks where people think something big and bad has gone down, something that could personally affect their health/safety/job/finances are not good pranks!

    “I returned to my office on a Monday and went about my usual morning routine. As I went to put my lunch in the fridge, I glimpsed a co-worker’s door at the end of the hall, covered in some kind of bright yellow tape. I didn’t think much of it because many others decorations on their door. When I returned to my own office, which I share with a co-worker who is even newer than me, I opened my email to see that a link to a press conference article had been sent to my entire department/floor.

    It read that there had been a murder in our building, on our very floor, over the weekend. There were some details about it being a crime of passion between a cleaning woman and an unknown male, and to come forward with any information you might have. I asked my roommate to open her email and she read it. We both started wondering what the heck was going on and that was when I realized the door decoration I’d seen was actually police tape. We got really nervous and anxious, with my roommate saying she was on the verge of packing up and leaving for the day. A part of my brain argued that if there had been a murder of some kind, our entire floor would have been closed for the day but the article emailed to us made it seem so real. We decided to walk down and see what was going on.

    We nervously edged down there and could clearly see police tape on the door and an official looking note stating it was a crime scene. As we stood there looking completely freaked out, another co-worker came out of her office and laughed at us. She then explained it was a prank being played on a different co-worker who was returning that day from a long vacation. She poked her head into the ‘crime scene’ office and said to more co-workers standing inside that they’d scared us newbies.

    My roommate and I walked back to our office, neither finding the joke very funny. As the day wore on, it was clear that our department was split between those who thought the prank was funny and those who thought it went too far, especially since it freaked out the new people. The next day, those who had done the prank brought donuts in and sent out an email that was kind of an apology but basically just said ‘Sorry if you didn’t find it funny’.

    Now I’m all for pranks but I prefer the kind that have a clear GOTCHA moment. Rearrange all the furniture in an office, switch a screen saver or background picture to something silly, hide all the chairs; stuff like that. And we a friendly and fun office so I’m not surprised that they want to prank each other. they had even just decorated the office, I would have been fine with that. But the fake press conference article sent to the entire department, which looked pretty real to me, was a step too far. Plus we are a government office; others I know who work in government said that they could be fired for pulling this kind of prank.”

    1. KHB*

      I don’t understand pranks where the “punchline” is of the form “Ha ha, you thought I was telling the truth, you’re so stupid!” I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard about anything like that that didn’t end up either falling flat or really upsetting people. But then, I don’t understand humor of the form “I’m saying a thing when I actually mean the opposite of that thing, is this not hilarious?” in general.

      I’m not a fan of most pranks, but I can get behind ones that have an element of cleverness to them. One summer in college, I worked for a professor whose office was a shrine of Beatles memorabilia. Near the end of the summer, a bunch of us snuck in, covered every appearance of John Lennon’s face with a photocopy of the professor’s face, and taped an extra “s” onto every appearance onto every appearance of the word “Beatles” (so, “Beatless”).

      1. Emi.*

        There’s a great story about St. Thomas Aquinas, where some of his religious brothers told him there was a flying cow outside. He jumped up, dropping his books, and went hustling outside to see. They laughed and laughed that he was so stupid as to believe a cow could fly, what a dumb ox, etc etc etc. He stared them down and said “It’s easier to believe in a flying cow than to believe that a religious would lie.”

      2. PB*

        Yeah, I don’t get “ha ha I’m lying pranks,” either. As a much, much more mild example, a few years ago, a colleague retired. When she did, she sent an email out to a few people on staff saying that she was planning to open a cafe and donate a portion of her profits to a local charity. I was excited about this, and looked forward to going to eat at her restaurant. A few weeks later, she was like, “Ha, ha, it was a joke! I can’t believe you guys believed me?”

        Well, why wouldn’t we?

        1. fposte*

          I have to wonder if that was a cover for a failure–rather than admit she couldn’t qualify for the loan, she pretended it has been a joke.

  65. MilkMoon (UK)*

    This is… utterly, astoundingly appalling. I am SO angry and upset for that poor young woman – if this was her first ever job she will never trust another company, manager or colleague again. Jfc.

    1. MilkMoon (UK)*

      As someone who has cried to the point of vomiting previously, I can’t stop thinking about the depth of terror she will have been experiencing to get that far. Just awful, awful!

      1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

        Especially since she asked to call someone to stay with her mom who is sick. It wasn’t to call a lawyer or in any way defend herself. Her first thought was her mom. The people who did this are cretins.

        1. MilkMoon (UK)*

          Yes exactly! I can just imagine all the thoughts racing through her head, fearing what might become of her poorly mother.

          It’s rare I’m lost for words but this is so upsetting in every way. Who the F are these people?!

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Buried deep in this part of the story is a very important point.
          Calling in outsiders can be an effective tool if one is caught in an out-of-control situation at work.

          I remember one time at work being told not to go to sleep at night and don’t go anywhere alone. I handled that by saying I would mail letters to a dozen or so friends and family around the US. If anything happens to me demand an investigation. (There was no internet then.) Dragging in outsiders seems to cause people to sober up and think straight. That was the end of that threat.

          I don’t know if you are reading, OP and I don’t know if you will ever see this person again. But if you do get the incredible opportunity to reconnect, please point out to her that in the end she DID actually save herself. She probably is concentrating on how powerless she felt, but reality is that she packed a well placed punch and she did rescue herself.

    2. fposte*

      The secondary cruelty is this is so outrageous that it will be hard for people she tells to believe her.

      1. small jar of fireflies*

        We’re getting the side of the story from people who want to look like “fun” that went too far. Her side might have different details and a different starting point that make it all make more sense.

        Hopefully this will be settled legally in her favor and believable retelling will be moot.

        1. fposte*

          Let’s hope so, or that she’s content with saying darkly, “What they said was a prank nearly destroyed me” without giving details.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Eh, I tend to disagree. Lots of people have some horror stories to tell. I think that more than a few people may tend to believe her.

  66. BadPlanning*

    Is it possible that the two employees did disappear some money and created this elaborate prank as a distraction? If we make a huge joke out of missing money, no one will notice that money is missing?

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      THIS. I mean, it’s a long jump from a despicable prank to embezzlement, but given the flagrancy of this and the employee’s reputation already pulled on the line, I’d want to be absolutely explicitly certain on every detail of this.

    2. Texan at Heart*

      You know, until I read this comment, I absolutely couldn’t understand why these people were still at work. Now, I just find myself wondering if you’ve had a chance to really sit down and talk with your supervisor or whoever has firing authority. In some industries (mine, unfortunately), it actually takes a little time to gather the data you need before you fire if embezzling is likely and/or internal systems aren’t adequately set up to protect the employer (too much material stored on personal devices, etc). It’s possible that their firing is coming and just hasn’t happened, because there is internal data collection going on to address the potential that they have (somehow) managed to do something that’s beyond even this level of horrendous.

      Just the same, I’m so sorry OP. This is awful, and continuing to work in this environment must be really stressful too. Good luck as you decide how to proceed.

  67. Laura Cruz*

    OP, please impress upon the people with firing authority that this “prank” has potential criminal consequences and certainly opens them up to legal issues. If they can’t fire these people due to obvious morality, kicking them out the door for that might do it.

    But for goodness sake, office pranks shouldn’t be this crap, they should be far more good humored than that.

    I had a co-worker that had taken a picture of himself making a goofy face and it became something of a meme on his team to send the picture in emails. Come April 1st, they printed out cutouts of the picture and stuck them in humorous locations – the bathroom, inside the fridge, on chairs. We all had a laugh because it wasn’t at his expense, and amusingly we’d still find one of the taped up faces in some of the better hiding spots. It didn’t invade anyone’s day for clean up either.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I once commented in passing that I didn’t really like smiley faces. A few weeks later on my birthday, my team decorated my office, and it was festooned with every kind of smiley face decoration they could find. I thought it was hilarious, and was touched they’d go to so much trouble to tease me. People from other departments came by to ask, ‘Can I have this? I wanna use it on my boss…’ and a new office tradition was born.

      THIS is how you pull off a prank at the office.

      1. Laura Cruz*

        Once a boss had to take a sabbatical for cancer treatment. On the day he was scheduled to come back, everyone blew up balloons for him and stuck them in his office along with making a huge cardboard cutout of the company mascot welcoming him back, along with distributing cupcakes afterwards (which was related to our branding for the product we were selling at the time.)

        He was very touched that we’d missed him that much and found wading through the balloon filled office funny. Again, it wasn’t a prank at his expense, it was done to show how much we cared about him.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          That’s a sweet thing to do, Laura, and you’re so right. Pranks don’t have to be mean-spirited or at someone’s expense. And I think a balloon-filled office is funny, too!

  68. Granny K*

    I think if you are the type of person that can gleefully laugh at someone else’s discomfort, you have a bigger problem than knowing what is and isn’t appropriate in the workplace. You should probably get a therapist and figure out who you’re really mad at, so you can stop stupidly acting out. Just my 2 cents.

    1. nonprofit fun*

      I’m glad you mentioned this, because it seems like this is way more than a case of just poor judgment. If I pranked someone and caught even a whiff of tears, I would immediately explain the situation and apologize profusely. It’s actually pretty terrifying that these employees are able to see someone have a full blown panic attack and think it’s funny. Most people don’t want to see someone in distress, which says to me that the two pranksters are lacking some very fundamental empathy.

  69. SheLooksFamiliar*

    ‘They say it was intended to be hilarious, not mean.’ Because, sure. How else would you take a police officer threatening to arrest you for a felony, and you KNOW you didn’t do it, and you have a sick mother to think of? You’d think it was a peck of fun to face such embarrassment and then laugh, and laugh…because, you know, intention is more important than how the pranked person actually feels. Yes, this is scarcasm.

    I hurt for this poor young woman and wish the Merry Pranksters could get their just desserts. OP, please keep us posted.

    1. Caroline*

      I want it to be fake, because I don’t want these people to be real. But I have an awful feeling that they are. There is no rational explanation for their behavior; not the initial idea, not the execution, and not the continued execution when the victim reacted as she (most reasonably) did. That poor woman.

      1. KHB*

        Agreed. This isn’t the kind of story someone makes up. (And I wouldn’t think that someone who DOES get a kick out of making up over-the-top stories and sending them to advice columnists would probably choose to make up a story about how terrible people are who prank their coworkers with made-up over-the-top stories. But maybe I underestimate human imagination.)

        1. KT84*

          Unfortunately mean spirited people like that do exist – and I find the good people around them tend to do nothing to stop them. In college one of my roommate’s jerk friends pranked me by pretending to be the Dean of our College and informing me I had been chosen as a candidate for a special program. He sounded just like the dean and I believed him when he said to show up the next day for an interview. I was a freshman at the time and a little naive (why would the dean himself call me instead of his assistant? why would he call me at 7 PM at night?) Anyway, I showed up for the interview and the dean and his assistant were both very confused though understanding when I explained I had made a mistake. I didn’t tell anyone but was pretty upset and pissed. Several weeks later I found out that both my roommates, my suite mates and half the floor (including some of my closest friends at the time) had known and none of them warned me. Several even thought it was a mean prank but still did nothing. I try to chalk it up to them all being naive freshman like me and in need of some maturity but I imagine some of them would react the same way today. It sounds like these two workers are cut from the same cloth as my prankster.

          1. strawberries and raspberries*

            Ugh, this reminds me of my mom’s cousin who, upon finding out I’d submitted a story to a content some teen mag was having, left messages on our answering machine in some stupid voice claiming that she was a photographer from the magazine and she wanted to photograph the finalists for the contest. I was only 13 or 14 and thought it was legit, but my mom recognized her number and read her the riot act. Since then I’ve never felt warm towards her. That’s a mean thing to do to a kid.

          2. Justme*

            College pranks are saran wrapping their doors or putting condom balloons in their room. That was just mean of them.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I know people who not only think their cruel pranks are hilarious, there’s something wrong with you if you don’t think so, too. ‘Jeez, can’t ya take a joke?’

        No, telling me you hit our family dog, my step-daughter’s favorite pet, and you think you killed him is NOT a joke. Yes, this actually happened.

    2. Bye Academia*

      It would be ironic if the letter were a “prank” to AAM. “Ha ha, all those commenters believe this crazy thing happened when it didn’t! What a funny prank!”

      I do think it’s real though. People are awful.

  70. Nita*

    Wow. OP, I hope HR is made aware of this ASAP. And I hope they’re on their way out the door with nothing but a poor reference. At the very least, if top management somehow thinks this is OK, word should quietly spread around the office about what they did. If it’s OK for them to harass this poor woman, it should be OK for their coworkers to give them the cold shoulder.

    Also, impersonating a police officer is a criminal offence where I live. Not sure about the laws where you are, but there may be criminal charges to be filed.

  71. Too Witches*

    Never have I ever read a letter here that I hoped more were fake – this kind of behavior seems too terrible to be true. I’m having vicarious anxiety for this poor, poor woman and though she will likely never read this I hope so much that she knows that she did nothing to deserve treatment this horrible. I wish her all the best.

  72. The Ginger Ginger*

    I’m truly aghast over this whole thing. I’m also wondering, how many coworkers watched this poor woman get marched out? These “pranksters” not only made her think she was being arrested, but possibly seriously damaged her reputation with other employees who were not in on this, who now also may really think she was arrested for something.

    Did these yahoos wait until OP was out of the office? Was no higher up around to ask what was going on and put a stop to it? How did these people get her all the way out of the building without someone asking questions? Did they actually convince OTHER people this wife was an officer making a legitimate arrest? Because that’s even farther reaching than just tricking this one poor woman – which is already appalling enough as it is.

    1. Adlib*

      Thank you. I was wondering about this exact thing. Were there any witnesses?! How in the world are these people still let in the building every day?

      1. fposte*

        I was also wondering about the other co-worker who wasn’t involved. Did they know it was happening? Did they recognize the co-worker’s wife?

    2. RB*

      This is a good point that is not getting enough attention. As a finance person, I appreciate you bringing this up.

      1. small jar of fireflies*

        That is what I was wondering might be the wife’s role. She starts driving the employee away, she offers to let her go if she can give an installment or part of the money back. Then she drops the employee off after she withdraws from an atm, and the others deny it happened. If there was a financial loss, they’d cover it with that. No police, employees word against theirs, and employee was so new they might be able to force her out.

        There’s lots of obvious flaws, including the big one of why it failed, but it would explain why they didn’t stop despite her distress — that was the point.

        1. Troutwaxer*

          I wonder if the wife was jealous of the young co-worker. If the husband had a history of straying the wife might have felt she was defending her territory.

    3. Jennifer Thneed*

      I just re-read the letter, and it does not say that anyone left the office. It says that they ended the prank when the poor woman asked to be allowed to call someone to look after her sick mother. I interpreted that as it all happening in the office, probably at her desk.

      I think the “impersonating a police officer” issue is the way to go, myself.

  73. Master Bean Counter*

    If this prank had been played on me there would have been serious consequences. Theft accusations can ruin a career. I would have called a lawyer at the first hint of an accusation. Probably would have retained them for a harassment or libel suit afterwards, and named the company as co-defendants if the people involved weren’t fired or removed form the department.

    1. mf*

      This is a good point–imagine if someone caught wind of the rumor that this employee stole money and didn’t know it was a prank? It’s unlikely, but even the remotest chance of that happening is NOT acceptable.

  74. Goya*

    Oh that poor woman!

    I personally don’t think that pranks have any place in the work office. If it were in my hands, they would be on their way out the door or at the very least on probation.

  75. kible*

    jeez I thought this was a repeat question because didn’t think that THIS MANY people would actually do this kind of stuff, but no, it’s a new one…people are jerks and i hope OP is able to contact the poor person who left with a suitable resolution.

  76. Justin*

    I no understand these people. I’ve known some mean people, but the people who’ve been mean to me weren’t joking (they may have found it funny but didn’t expect other people to find it funny), and the people who’ve joked with me weren’t really this mean.

    I no understand.

  77. The Ginger Ginger*

    And also – this needs to be escalated if it hasn’t already been, OP. Your boss, HR, your boss’s boss. I know you said you don’t have firing power, so I’m assuming you’re not the owner of the company, which means – escalate immediately. This is such a serious and far-reaching breech of behavior for your reports, it really can’t just stay with you. You really need to run it up the chain to HR and your boss as soon as possible. And I agree with comments up the chain – This is worth burning some of your capital to ensure these people are fired.

  78. Argh!*

    If you can be fired for flipping the bird while cycling next to the presidential motorcade, you should definitely be fired for a prank like this!

  79. stitchinthyme*

    Wow…I’ve never see anything worse than filling someone’s cubicle with balloons or other harmless things like that. Last week a coworker picked up lunch for me (I had ordered it online and paid so he just had to grab the bag), and when I looked at the bag I saw it had “Spicy” written in marker. I told him I thought he must have picked up the wrong bag, and he laughed and said he’d written that because he knows I hate spicy food. I laughed and went to eat my lunch, which was in fact what I’d ordered, and that was the end of it.

    So, harmless stuff like that? No biggie. But I agree with the OP and everyone else that this was WAY beyond the line. Seems like it should be a no-brainer — if the prank is likely to make someone really upset or afraid, even just for a short time, it’s probably not appropriate for the workplace. (Whether it’s appropriate among non-work friends is an entirely different question that I think would largely depend on the people involved.)

  80. Broadcastlady*

    Any criminal lawyers know if an impersonating a police officer charge could come into play? It’s a felony in my state.

  81. HigherEdPerson*

    This is one of those posts for which I’m REALLLLLLLY gonna need an update. And I’m totally going to keep thinking about it randomly until I get one, LOL.

  82. Beancounter Eric*

    I’m sure the perpetrators of this act are responding with phrases such as “you’re too serious”, “you don’t have a sense of humor”, “we were just teasing”……the reality is they were hazing the new employee, and as much as they ought to be severely punished, they will probably walk away unscathed.

    OP, document everything that happened regarding this event. Also, if you are not already searching for a new job, do so now – I would expect this mess to blow up in your face before everything shakes out. Your pranksters strike me as the kind who will try very hard to tar you with blame, even though you had nothing to do with their escapades and were appalled by their actions.

    Good luck!!

  83. animaniactoo*

    I am late to the convo and haven’t been able to read through all of the above yet, but I have 2 points to make if they haven’t been made already:

    1) This prank should have been over the moment the employee started crying. THAT SECOND. Not continued on and on until she’d thrown up and then gotten to the point of asking to call someone to stay with her mom.

    Even as a prank that should go over well, you pull the plug as soon as it’s clear the person you’re pranking is having a really bad reaction to it. The fact that these 2 didn’t have THAT much sense makes me question their judgment even harder than the poorly thought out prank circumstances.

    2) If at all possible, you should try to get your company to offer her some severance money and as good a recommendation as possible.

    Yeah, she’s reacted hard to this. But ultimately those 2 are employees of your company, it’s the company’s responsibility to handle the aftermath of their actions, and her reaction is really not an unfathomable one. Making her as whole as you can is the right thing to do here.

    1. serenity*

      Your point 1 is so key here. I can’t imagine the level of insensitivity, poor judgment, and lack of critical thinking that went into continuing the prank once it was clear that the target of the joke was in serious distress. That’s just abhorrent, and speaks to employees that have catastrophically poor independent judgment.

    2. Allypopx*

      She’s fresh out of school! She’s likely a baby! She has huge responsibilities at home! She thought she was going to prison! Of course she reacted hard. That’s not in disagreement to you of course I just – GAH I’M SO MAD. This letter makes my skin crawl so hard.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      This prank should have been over the moment the employee started crying.

      I think it’s an interesting pivot point that often comes up as people mature. Things start to go bad, and you can put the brakes on, apologize, and still be in a heap of trouble for getting to this stage in the disaster. Or…. you can put your head down and move FORWARD, and eventually the gnomes will steal enough underwear that a profit will be turned and no one will remember this awkward point on the path.

      1. Argh!*

        So how is it that these experienced employees didn’t mature to the point of knowing this? How does that happen?

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          There are individual 15 year olds I would trust on a bunch of issues over individual 40 year olds. Time and maturity are only roughly correlated.

          (Or as my husband put it re watching some middle aged people muck up something that seemed only mildly difficult, you can have 20 years experience, or you can have the same 1 year’s experience 20 years running.)

          1. Decima Dewey*

            If your intended prank sounds like the plot of an old film noir, maybe you’d better rethink it.

  84. Radiance*

    Oh dear, this is dreadful. A few years ago a telephone prank ended up in an actual suicide in Australia. It was widely publicized at the time. I do hope that poor young lady is just ignoring you, and not something worse. Please try to find out.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Thank you for saying this. I was reading where people thought she had lawyered up and that was why she was not answering the phone. Hmm, there could be other reasons she did not answer the phone.
      The woman left the building in tears. Presumably she got into a car and DROVE in the emotional state she was in.
      Probably the first thing she had to do was check on her mother, because that would make sense at this point. We have no way to know what happened next.

  85. Toadstool Sandwich*

    That is an absolutely horrible prank! The victim of the prank should have gone to HR immediately to report her colleagues and their complete lack of judgment, and it should absolutely end in a firing. I agree with Alison- people have remarkably terrible judgement when it comes to pranks.

    Years ago, I worked for a large law firm that employed well over 500 people. The department I worked in had a young guy in his early twenties, who was a file clerk for two lawyers. He was quiet, yet friendly. At one point, it was rumored that he was interested in one of the secretaries, who was a lovely young girl also in her early twenties, but she had a boyfriend and did not reciprocate. I don’t even know if it was true- it was most likely office gossip because the two were often seen speaking (the lawyer she worked for was one of the ones he filed papers for), but people swore up and down that their interactions seemed flirtatious. One day, a few weeks before the company holiday party, he stopped showing up for work and we all eventually found out that he had committed suicide. It was awfully sad. He had been silently suffering from depression.

    ENTER: Poor Judgment

    Two female employees in the same department thought it would be amusing to tell the young girl that the guy killed himself because of her. They took her out to lunch and made a big thing of “confessing” the news to her, claiming that he had been in love with her and that he killed himself because he realized he could never be with her, etc. That poor girl came back to work distraught and sobbing and had to leave work early and take time off. The two employees who had pranked her thought she would be back the next day so they could tell her they had been kidding, but started to panic when they saw that the girl would be out for a couple of weeks. They confessed what they had done to another female employee who berated them in front of other people and went straight to HR. Both were fired immediately after the firm concluded their investigation.

    What they did was just so cruel and disgusting and the worst part of it was that the poor girl could not be convinced that it was just a prank. She truly believed what she had been told and felt responsible for the young man’s death. She came back weeks later and was never the same after that. She was in therapy, hardly spoke to anyone and her once bubbly personality all but disappeared. She ended up quitting a few months later and last I heard, she was not doing well, had broken up with her boyfriend and was unable to find a new job.

    Perfect example of how a supposed “prank” really missed the mark and potentially ruined a person’s life. The two women also continued to insist that they never meant any harm and that they didn’t think she would take it so hard. I still wonder exactly how they expected her to take it. Was she supposed to laugh about it? SMH

    1. RVA Cat*

      That is light years beyond Poor Judgement. More like Enter: Two Sadistic Sick F***s. I feel so sorry for that young woman and I hope she gets the help she needs to move beyond this.
      (p.s. Suicide is never anyone’s fault. His depression killed him, same as if it was cancer.)

      1. KellyK*

        Yes, absolutely. And thank you for your P.S. (I’d add the caveat that the only way anyone can be blamed for someone else’s suicide is if they were actually *abusing* the victim. A violent spouse or a parent who sent their LGBT kid to conversion therapy probably contributed to that person’s suicidality. But only serious, capital A Abuse, not just being a jerk, and certainly not being someone’s unrequited love interest.)

      1. Toadstool Sandwich*

        RVA Cat, absolutely 100% on the mark- suicide is a truly unfortunate thing and is never anyone’s fault. Believe me when I say that most employees in that firm were speechless for a good chunk of time after what happened. We were all beyond horrified and saddened by everything.

    2. stitchinthyme*

      Wow, this is right up there with the prank from the OP. How horrible.

      A prank that makes someone afraid or upset, even for just a short time, is never, ever appropriate for the workplace.

      1. stitchinthyme*

        (And I think there’s very, very few situations where it’s appropriate outside the workplace, either. *Maybe* with exactly the right group of people, but I don’t think I’d be able to laugh even if it was a good friend doing that kind of thing.)

    3. KellyK*

      Oh. My. God. That’s even worse than the “you’re getting arrested for theft” prank. That’s completely horrifying. I’m glad they were fired, and that the person they told chewed them out.

    4. oranges & lemons*

      So they thought it would be hilarious to simultaneously play a prank based on their coworker’s recent suicide and to make someone else feel responsible for his death? I can’t comprehend this.

    5. fposte*

      That’s horrifying on more than one level–of course there’s the “let’s lie to somebody to destroy them emotionally” component, but then there’s the fact that their response to a suicide is to think “How can we get some fun out of this?”

      1. Chriama*

        That’s the part that sticks out to me. Upon hearing that a coworker committed suicide, instead of feeling grief or empathy your ur first thought is “how do I spin this to make it humorous”. I’m not impressed by their basic humanity.

    6. clow*

      holy crap. No one who isn’t a piece of human garbage could possibly think that 1. this would be funny and 2. that someone wouldn’t take it really badly to hear they caused someone to commit suicide.

    7. strawberries and raspberries*

      Did these two monsters end up marrying the prankers in the original letter? My fucking god.

    8. I'm Not Phyllis*

      This is possibly the cruelest thing I’ve ever read. Good on your company for firing them, but that poor woman.

    9. Nita*

      Now I’m just speechless. And twice as worried about the victim in OP’s letter. I hope OP is able to reach her and confirm she’s OK.

    10. NaoNao*

      And in the years following that, one of those women married a man or lady who thought that prank was hilarious and they were terribly funny. They often told that story and laughed and laughed. They moved to a new job and decided to play a “prank” on another harmless girl….

      …Next season on American Horror Story: PRANK

    11. depizan*

      My god. That’s even worse than the letter here.
      What makes people think these kind of things are funny? Do they just enjoy laughing at other people’s