Have you noticed how many headlines for viral articles, photos, and videos today start with the two words Epic Fail?

Here’s a word of advice. You don’t want to see Epic Fail hovering over an article that tells the story of an April Fools’ Day prank in your business. With that in mind let’s relate some classic miscues so you can make it through April Fools’ Day without attracting the kind of attention that is best to avoid.

But before we dive in, there’s one more essential point you need to consider: As a small business owner or manager, you can be held responsible when pranks go bad. When a victim of a prank ends up retaining a lawyer, well, the joke ceases to be funny. And as we’ll see in our first example, it doesn’t even have to be a particularly ill-natured prank.

Not a big Star Wars fan

One April Fools’ Day not long ago the manager of a restaurant in Florida told his servers that whoever sold the most beer that day was going to win a free Toyota. I won’t even go into the problem of encouraging employees to get patrons drunk; I’ll stick to the April Fools’ Day part of this story.

At the end of the day the (un)lucky winner was shepherded out to the parking lot to see her free Toyota. Instead she found a Star Wars action figure of Yoda: a toy-Yoda.

Yes, it even makes me groan to recount it, but the business owner was soon crying in his beer when the employee sued him for breach of contract and fraudulent misrepresentation. However, the story does have a happy ending … of sorts. The employee won enough money in the lawsuit to afford the car!

Things can get serious

Tragically, there have even been lives lost due to workplace pranks. This is a special danger when there is heavy equipment in the work place. Once a railway worker was killed when a co-worker thought it would be funny to turn a high-pressure air hose on him. There are similar stories about employees zapping one another with electrical shocks.

It’s important to realize that even if you, as a small business owner, aren’t the instigator of the prank, you are still responsible for what happens in your workplace. You need to let your employees know that work is not the place for pranks.

Lost time and prestige

Bodily injury, death and monetary settlements are terrible and highly visible results of April Fools’ Day pranks gone bad at the workplace. However, even when businesses are fortunate enough to avoid trouble at those high levels, they pay a price for pranks.

First, the time you or your employees spend being pranksters, is time that is taken away from productive activities. You may think that injecting a little fun in the workplace can boost productivity, and I would agree. However, I suggest you find a better way to do it.

There is a good chance that some of your employees are embarrassed or offended by pranks but they may be reluctant to say anything. Don’t put them in that position. When you need to make work fun, do it in a way where everyone can participate and it’s totally nonthreatening.

If you don’t, your business may lose its high standing in the eyes of some employees and even some customers.

How do you create a fun work environment for your employees? Let us know in the comments below.