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Real Deal

A Sign Company General Manager Faces a Dilemma After Time-Wasting Shop Pranks Escalate

The response of the company owner leaves the general manager facing a difficult decision.




IN GENERAL, MORALE WAS high at Zenith Sign Co., but a series of company-wide pranks had become more than General Manager Ace Freeline was willing to tolerate. The foolishness had begun years before, but as of late, was soaring to a crescendo. A lot of the pranks came at the expense of others. And though no one was ever injured physically, some of the Zenith staff — those at the butt end of the silly pranks — were feeling low.

Hardy from the fabrication department came up with a clever stunt that made a lot of people laugh… except for those wanting to use the men’s room. At 8:20 one morning (post coffee time), he left a pair of men’s work boots behind the stall door, as they would appear when it was occupied. He then locked the door handle and crawled out from under the stall. After a half-hour of those work boots not moving, word traveled fast. “Either someone has a digestive problem, or they’re really abusing the clock,” Jerry, the neon tube bender, muttered to a few of the guys.


Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved and should not be confused with real people or places. Responses are peer-sourced opinions and are NOT a substitute for professional legal advice. Please contact your attorney if you any questions about an employee or customer situation in your own business.


LAWRIN ROSEN is the president of ARTfx (Bloomfield, CT). Email him at

Ace caught wind of the situation and started to lose his cool. When no one came out of the men’s room by 9:00, he pushed open the swinging door, marched past the urinals to the stall, and pounded on the metal door. No answer. He pounded again. No answer. “Get the f— out of there! We got a business to run, and your damn business is taking an obscene amount of time!” No answer. Ace’s face went beet red as he bashed in the stall door by breaking the lock catch, only to find the empty pair of work boots. “$#!+” he swore. “It’s getting to be too much around this joint!”

Ace tore off into the shop. “Who pulled the damn bullsh– in the men’s room?” he screamed. As his words echoed through the shop, everyone looked around trying to find a guilt-ridden mug. No one. While Ace’s tirade continued waiting for the guilty party to fess up, Hardy pulled the same stunt with the boots in the women’s room.

Meanwhile, some in the shop had gotten together to play a mean trick on Jerry, the spray painter, who always took his lunch while sitting on his favorite, tall wooden stool. The pranksters had decided to cut a quarter inch off the legs every few days. By lunchtime later that day, Jerry finally figured it out and went straight to Ace to complain.

The same pranksters had also pulled a similar gag on Thor, whose job included cleaning the machinery, taking out the garbage and forever sweeping sawdust and metal shavings off the shop floor. Once or twice a week, Thor’s push broom was shortened a bit, to the point at which the poor guy’s back was just about horizontal to the shop floor. When Thor heard about Jerry’s stool, he too, made a beeline to Ace.

The antics coming to a head aggravated Ace to the point of requesting an emergency meeting with Zenith’s president, Lance Simmons, in the mid-afternoon. “Mr. Simmons, I can’t take it much longer,” Ace said. “The guys are up to some real mischievous behavior.” He told of the boots in the restroom, Jerry’s disappearing stool and Thor’s now puny push broom. However, and to Ace’s surprise, Simmons dismissed the request for advice in a phrase, “Let me think about this situation…”

Near the end of the day, Ace stood in front of the utility sink, thinking hard about Simmons’ seemingly uncaring attitude. Alone in his thoughts, Ace grabbed a couple of paint brushes to clean. As soon as he pushed the sink handle forward, a blast of water shot him in the chest, drenching his shirt. Some wise guy had taped the handle of the sink’s spray attachment shut, and left the device pointing straight ahead.

The Big Questions

  • What should Ace do next? Is this a company culture issue … or a discipline problem?
  • Could seriously restricting the volume of pranks played in the company create a negative atmosphere, as Simmons may seem to think?
  • Or is this a case where the leaders of the company need to seriously ask themselves, “How much fun is too much fun?”
Tiffanni S.
Kansas City, KS

Go back to the owner and tell him his attitude isn’t acceptable. Explain that the situation has gotten out of hand and could lead to physical injury and already is causing low morale. Flat ask if the owner is overwhelmed with the situation and ask him to sit down with you to come up with a solution. If none of that works, call in an HR expert and ask for guidance. As a last resort, reevaluate your employment situation. Sounds like a toxic culture that is allowing bullies to run the shop.

John P.
Skokie, IL

This is not a sign company. It is a circus, and management, including Ace, has let it go on too long. Time for a “Come to Jesus” meeting with the entire staff, with Simmons in attendance. Ace should never have taken the problem to Simmons. Ace is the GM; it is his job to run the place on a day-to-day basis. If he can’t or won’t, [Simmons should replace Ace]. He has become part of the problem at this point. At the meeting, let everyone know that the shenanigans stop now. Be prepared to discipline whoever is going to try to test the waters. It will happen. Schedule follow-up meetings with the staff to see how it is going. Keep an eye on the known troublemakers. If the pranks persist, terminate the guilty. It’s going to take a while for all this to sink in. Be prepared for a long-term project.

John D.
Carol Stream, IL

If your people have so much time on their hands to think up and spend time on “pranks,” it looks to me like your people are underworked and your company is overstaffed. If you are a union company, you will probably have to give them a warning, then a second warning, then a remedial course in proper work activity before you can fire them for improper, unauthorized, work activity [and] creating unrest in the workforce.

Robert B.
Oakdale, CT

Find the pranksters and give [their supporters] a suspension with warning that termination would be the next step. Though it will slow production, it will be worth it to stop the s***.

Spencer S.
Colorado Springs, CO

Fire the tricksters and let everyone know that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.

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Lawrin Rosen founded ARTfx Signs (Bloomfield, CT) in 1983. The company focuses on artistically based production of signs, awnings, architectural elements and corporate art. Contact Lawrin at



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