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True Cost of Staff Pranks - Reflections of a Reluctant Landlady

Updated: Apr 17

Nobody wants to be taken to an Employment Tribunal.  Evidence shows that the employer is much more likely to lose than the employee, and it can be costly, not just in terms of paying compensation, legal fees etc, but your time in preparing and attending and there is a lot of preparation to do!

As an experienced HR professional working in the hospitality industry, I was hot on staff not breaching our equality and diversity/ preventing bullying and harassment policies. However, managing a team of high-spirited, diverse individuals across multiple sites proved challenging. In such a dynamic environment, where the line between work and personal life often blurs, especially among live-in staff, maintaining a balance between a relaxed atmosphere and professional conduct is not always straightforward.

Real-Life Incidents and Tribunal Risks

There were some pranks that went on behind my back that made my hair curl!  One unimpressed individual woke up to realise he had slept with a dead pheasant in his bed. Another had his mobile phone wrapped in clingfilm and briefly dropped in the fryer (amazingly it still worked but I wouldn’t advise trying it!), another member of staff found his car wrapped in the stuff when he finished his shift. I managed to prevent a further incident one day, when I returned from a supplier in the nick of time, to stop a young chef who had been told to mow the lawn naked, with a sign covering his manhood reading “I must not get it on with waiting staff in the toilets!” Such actions, though often dismissed as practical jokes, can have severe legal implications. It's important to recognize that in bullying cases, the perception of the recipient, not the intent of the perpetrator, defines the severity of the act.

Over the years, I had cause to invoke the disciplinary procedure a number of times, known colloquially by the team as the “Liz Treatment”, and this was definitely one of them, nudity not being a standard reprimand in our disciplinary procedure.

On the positive side, the team were close-knit, enthusiastic and good-humoured, and I soon managed to embed a more professional environment.  In fact, the only tribunal claim I received over the years was from an experienced chef who cut his finger, but that is for another blog.

To prevent such scenarios from escalating into employment tribunal cases, I recommend the following strategies for any business owner in the hospitality sector:

  • Set clear expectations for a respectful, inclusive, and professional work environment from day one.

  • Address incidents promptly and don't hesitate to invoke disciplinary procedures.

  • Implement and enforce appropriate policies and procedures.

  • Don’t let recruitment difficulties prevent you from putting up with unacceptable behaviour, in the short term it is better to be short-staffed that having a claim against you cripple or even close your business.

  • Ensure live-in staff are aware of and respect their professional lives and personal lives. If bullying happens in the workplace, or even off-site but in a work context, then you are ultimately responsible.


True cost of staff pranks? In the UK the average payout at an employment tribunal was £13,541 (2021/2022 figures), but could be as much as £165,000. The cost of recruitment, poor staff retention, training and induction costs so much more on top.

Navigating the complexities of people management and compliance in the hospitality industry can be challenging, but with the right strategies in place, the risks of facing an Employment Tribunal can be significantly mitigated. Remember, it's better to be proactive in creating a positive work culture than reactive in dealing with legal consequences.

Have you got similar experiences?  Why not share them.  If you need help in dealing with potential claims, please reach out.

A diverse group of staff members sat round a table in a meeting.

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