A council has warned staff who send "ageist" birthday cards to colleagues that they could be breaking the law and face prosecution.
Wisecracks about being "over the hill" and "past it" are no laughing matter for workers at South Gloucestershire council, who have been told age-related jokes could constitute discrimination or even harassment.
In a memo sent to the council's 10,000 staff, personnel chief Paul Scrivener warned: "Even sending a colleague a birthday card that says they are 'over the hill and past it' could be taken as ageist behaviour.
"This is not just a phase the council are going through, it's the law which means you will be liable for any comments or action you make or do that someone may find ageist and discriminatory."
But the final line appears to undo the council's own politically correct directive by quipping: "From Hip Hop to hip op, South Gloucestershire is an age diverse organisation."
The council insisted yesterday there was no ban on sending birthday cards and it was simply reminding employees of new legislation, which came into effect last month.
Under the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations Act, workers can sue their employers if they feel they have been harassed or victimised because of their age.
But the Liberal Democrat-run council was accused of losing its sense of humour by Conservative councillor Keith Craney, who insisted they had bigger things to worry about than birthday cards.
"Are we going down the road where cards will just say Birthday on the front of them?
"Will Happy Birthday be the next thing you can't say? Whoever dreamed up this one needs to think about what the elderly people of this country really are worried about.
"The politically correct brigade are going a little over the top on this one."
John Warren, spokesman for South Gloucestershire Council, said the authority was giving its employees a set of scenarios which could fall foul of the new law.
"This included a theoretical example of sending an agerelated birthday card and possible implications under the new legislation. However, this in no way constitutes a ban.
"The reference made to 'hip hop to hip op' in pay slips was one of several possible straplines identified by the Employers Forum on Age for use to raise awareness of the new legislation.
"South Gloucestershire Council has comprehensive policies and robust procedures in place to deal with any form of discrimination, whether on grounds of ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, sexuality or age. We also operate a fully comprehensive equalities policy.
"Any complaint about discrimination on grounds of age would be treated in accordance with these procedures."