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5 Ways a 'Locker Room' Office Culture Can Get You Sued

Your business may have a casual and fun atmosphere, which may border at times on juvenile. But you should think twice about letting your workplace become like a locker room or frat house.

Not only is the image of a locker room not consistent with a professional (and clean-smelling) workspace, but it may encourage misconduct that could open your business to liability.

So before you join in on a light-hearted office prank, consider these five ways in which a "locker room" office culture can get your business sued:

1. 'Playful' Grabs Can Generate Sexual Harassment Suits.

Locker rooms and frat houses are storied locations for male-on-male groping, grabbing, and smacking. And while this somewhat ritualized (and assuredly not gay) touching is done in the name of fun or laughs, in an office setting, it can easily lead to a sexual harassment lawsuit. Sexual harassment certainly covers touching that is sexual in nature, so your office policy should encourage employees to keep their hands off each other.

2. Pranks Are Lawsuit Bait.

Veterans of locker rooms and frat houses can attest that pranks are a time-honored way for groups to bond over the mild to wild pranking of various individuals. Even on April Fools' Day, this kind of behavior has no real place in the office. It invites employees to get injured, feel threatened, or believe they are being discriminated against.

3. Raunchy, Edgy Jokes Can Encourage Discrimination.

Jokes about sex, race, religion, or politics may go over like gangbusters in a locker room or frat house, but racy or "edgy" jokes in the office are a good way to generate complaints of discrimination. Unless you're running a comedy club, do not encourage sexually explicit or racist jokes.

4. Alcohol Can Make Office Parties a Risky Cocktail.

What would a fun frat environment be without copious amounts of alcohol? Good thing you're running a small business and not a frat house. Although business and alcohol often mix, be very careful when to say "when" at company functions. That way you can avoid complaints of harassment, injuries, and possible liability from drunken driving deaths.

5. 'Boys Clubs' Can Generate Doubts About Hiring Practices.

Employees appreciate transparency, so if your office culture is modeled after a "boys club" with exclusive membership and secret traditions (like a fraternity), you may be surprised how fast you get labeled as such. Not only can this scare away top talent who don't feel they fit in, but it may be the basis for a discrimination lawsuit.

Don't use your office as a place to emulate your locker room days. Your employees and your business will thrive if you simply keep things professional.

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