HR Blog

“A Jester Unemployed is Nobody’s Fool”

By Dee Yingst

Why “holidays” like April Fools’ Day have no business in the workplace

I have a pretty good sense of humor and I like a good laugh. (This month’s blog title is actually a line from one of my favorite movies – “The Court Jester” with Danny Kaye. Very silly movie.) I have a big laugh – no sweet little giggles here - it’s not at all unusual to hear my great big belly laugh emanating from my office on any given day.  

One of the things I don’t find funny is laughing at someone else’s expense.

Which brings me to April Fools’ Day. The whole premise behind this so-called holiday is to laugh at someone else’s expense. There is absolutely nothing funny about that.

I have little doubt that someone is right now rolling their eyes and saying ‘I guess she can’t take a joke.’ The whole point of April Fools’ Day is to make fun of someone and then laugh at them. Not with them. At them. As an HR professional and as a human being, that is just wrong on so many levels.

Maybe there’s someone in your office that you believe is particularly gullible and likely to fool easily so you figure they’re a pretty easy mark for a prank. That doesn’t make it right. It’s the message I send when I speak to groups about harassment: you are in control of you and nothing that individual does or doesn’t do changes that. It doesn’t matter what someone is wearing, how they walk, how they talk or anything else.  Nothing gives you the right to engage in harassing behavior, whether it rises to the level of legally defined harassment or not isn’t the point. It’s still wrong.

It’s important to remember that the object of the joke or prank is the one that gets to decide whether it’s funny or not – not the prankster. That’s a lesson lost on many people.  Organizations need to be vigilant in reminding staff of this important lesson. It’s not unlike the cautionary tale I share about Valentine’s Day: don’t let a holiday be the “cover” someone uses to harass another employee. The shortest way to a hostile work environment claim is to not address behavior even if it’s done under the guise of a so-called holiday. 
Laughter in the workplace is not only a great idea, but I would argue it’s absolutely essential. Just as long as it’s not at anyone else’s expense.