In TV’s beloved sitcom The Office, the Scranton workplace of Dunder Mifflin was decidedly non-PC, a place where harassment of all sorts was tolerated and went unpunished – the perfect environment to get away with just about whatever you wanted. The ongoing office pranks that Jim Halpert pulled on his colleague Dwight Schrute made for relatable and hilarious television. Trying these tricks in your own workplace, however, could land you in legal trouble.
Jim makes Dwight smack himself in the face with his phone
What happens: Jim slowly increases the weight of Dwight’s phone handset by putting a few nickels in it at a time, until Dwight gets used to the weight. Then Jim removes all the nickels at once, decreasing the weight, and causing Dwight to smack himself in the face with the handset.
The legal problems: Dwight might have a personal injury claim, though it could be hard to prove. More likely, Dwight could charge Jim with harassment, especially when compounded by the other pranks in the episode: Jim paying all the employees $5 to call Dwight “Dwayne”; Jim trying to convince Dwight he’d committed murder; Jim moving Dwight’s desk an inch every time he left his desk; the list goes on.
Jim puts all of Dwight’s desk items in the vending machine
What happens: Jim is friends with the vending machine guy, who does him a solid and lets Jim put Dwight’s desk belongings into the vending machine.
The legal problem: Theft. Even though Jim gives Dwight nickels (nickels for a vending machine!) to buy back his possessions, Dwight’s wallet is still inside that machine.
Jim replaces Dwight’s desk and chair with cardboard wrapped in Christmas paper
What happens: Dwight thinks Jim has merely wrapped all his belongings, but when he sits down, he falls through the chair and lands on his rear.
The legal problem: An employee injury at work caused by on-the-job horseplay could result in the company (not the offending employee) being liable for medical bills and a workers’ comp claim.
Jim sends Dwight a “gaydar” machine
What happens: Dwight receives a “gaydar” machine from Jim – a handheld metal detector that supposedly can detect homosexuals. The machine goes off when Dwight scans Oscar, an openly gay colleague. But then Dwight scans himself, and the machine buzzes when he swipes his own belt buckle.
The legal problem: Discrimination based on sexual orientation reigned supreme in this episode, but it was just one of many that parodied homophobic attitudes in the workplace. The “Gay Witch Hunt” episode revolved around Michael outing Oscar (who was then still in the closet), ignorantly using homosexual slurs and forcing a hug and kiss on Oscar. Dwight then demanded “all other office gays out themselves or I will do it for them.”
Jim convinces Dwight the impersonator he hired is the real Ben Franklin
What happens: Instead of hiring a stripper for a female co-worker’s bachelorette party (as instructed by his boss, Michael Scott), Jim hires a Benjamin Franklin historical lecturer. Dwight spends the episode quizzing Franklin to determine if he’s the real deal.
The legal problem: It’s not so much the prank that’s legally problematic as the impetus for the prank. Strippers at work? Even the discussion of strippers at work? Sexual harassment claim, here we come.