Sherlock: the final problem for employers

January 27, 2017 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

The series four finale of Sherlock cleverly illustrates the dangers of allowing the inmates to run the asylum. The show regularly covers behaviors that would alarm any employer, such as Sherlock abusing drugs, firing guns indoors whenever frustrated, and generally being delightfully bizarre. These oddities are some of the many reasons that Sherlock is a consultant for, rather than an employee of, the local authorities.  Personality Assessment Form

They also explain why Sherlock has no regular employees to speak of, unless you count his secret network of informants. This series introduces Sherlock’s sister, who is comprised of equal parts evil and intellect. When she takes over the high-security facility where she has been housed for decades for being “too clever,” all bets are off.

The fact that the facility’s employees ignore established policies and protocols for handling this particular inmate has devastating consequences. The facility certainly could have used some advice on employee screening, training, and discipline for failure to follow procedures.  It also may have wanted to invest in some serious psychological testing of any employees, though screening applicants by use of psychological tests may raise Americans with Disabilities Act (Act) concerns if the tests are used to detect mental impairments.

Such screenings also may implicate rights under state law or raise discrimination issues, depending on the types of questions asked in the test. If lawful, a psychological test should be given only after an employment offer has been extended, because a pre-offer psychological examination may constitute a prohibited pre-offer medical exam under the ADA. Regardless, I doubt any psychological screening could have prepared the facility to handle Sherlock’s little sister.

Some general takeaways for employers are:

  1. Using sword-wielding clowns and bleeding portraits to frighten an individual into telling the truth is very effective, but still not acceptable behavior.
  2. Double-check that any glass walls in your facility actually have glass in them.
  3. Do not leave employees alone with highly dangerous geniuses with a particular talent for mind control.
  4. Beware of inmates–or employees–converting areas of the facility for their own personal uses.
  5. Finally, even the most seemingly complex problems can sometimes be solved with a little love.

Baseball purists

December 13, 2016 - by: Matt Gilley 0 COMMENTS
Matt Gilley

“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

-H.L. Mencken

This post may not be the usual finger-wagging scold you may have come to expect from an employment lawyer. I’m confident, though, that this blog’s audience of fellow practitioners and human resource professionals will take a little solace in it. After all, it’s no fun to be a killjoy and we are thrust into that role more often than we’d like.  Young male baseball referee blowing a whistle

Why? Because potential liability under the employment laws too often compels us to manage to the lowest common denominator.

That frustrating fact claims its share of fun as casualties because you never know when some yahoo is going to take the fun well beyond harmless. Witness the latest casualty, as reported by the Washington Post: Major League Baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement will prohibit (well, curtail) the time-honored practice of rookie hazing.

As reported by the Post (quoting the Associated Press), the new CBA “bans players from ‘requiring, coercing or encouraging’ other players to engage in ‘dressing up as women or wearing costumes that may be offensive to individuals based on their race, sex, nationality, age, sexual orientation, gender identify or other characteristic.’” Gone are the days, the Post mentions, when the Washington Nationals dressed their rookies as gymnasts and ballerinas, or when the Dodgers outfitted Yasiel Puig as Gumby. In other words, grizzled MLB veterans can’t poke some good-natured fun at rookies by putting them in a Marilyn Monroe wig because there’s probably some perverted vet out there who’s going to torment a rookie until he streaks the field wearing who-knows-what.

Now, I don’t blame you a bit if you read that last paragraph and decided that Major League Baseball and the players’ union have done us all a very big favor. On the other hand, friendly ribbing and joking can go a long way to develop chemistry and camaraderie among a teamwhether it’s a baseball team or a business unit. The trick, of course, is knowing when it’s crossed the line, and that’s a terribly difficult line to draw (“good-natured” and “fun” being in the eye of the beholder and all). Unfortunately for us, the easiest way to navigate safely among Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the National Labor Relations Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and all of the other employment statutes is to put the kibosh on as much of it as you can.

I wish I had some more cheering news. No one enjoys telling a good employee that they can’t pull a harmless prank because a real-world Bluto Blutarsky may stalk among us, primed and ready to take that inch and go 100 miles more. Until we all grow up, though, we may just have to accept the unwanted mantle of the Puritan crusading against fun. And there’s one thing we know about adult humans: we don’t always act like adults.

Peter Dinklage takes on Elf

December 05, 2016 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

It’s December, which means that those of us holiday fanatics can decorate and watch Christmas movies to our hearts’ content without shame.  Of course, I won’t tell anyone if you already had your tree up in November (like me) or if you never took it down from last year.  One of my favorite Christmas movies is Elf, starring Will Ferrell.  It is surprisingly packed with various employment law issues, such as employee substance abuse at work, sexual harassment, and workplace violence.  In one of the more memorable scenes, Peter Dinklage’s character, Miles Finch, demonstrates how good intentions can still lead to a harassment complaint.  Facepalm, retro disappointed man slapping forehead, d'oh!

As background, Will Ferrell’s character, Buddy, has been raised as one of Santa’s elves and only recently learned that he is actually human. He has tracked down his biological father, who works for a children’s book publisher in New York City. Unaccustomed to the human world and innocent to its realities, Buddy has difficulty adjusting to life in the Big Apple and working in his father’s office.

Cue Peter Dinklage, who steals the scene wherever he goes.  His character, Finch, is a best-selling children’s author ready get down to the business of pitching his latest book ideas. Finch, like Dinklage, is a busy, high-powered professional who also happens to have a form dwarfism. Tensions flare when Buddy barges into the room and innocently mistakes Finch for one of Santa’s elves. Unaware that Buddy was actually adopted and raised by Santa’s elves, Finch is understandably insulted and upset by Buddy’s elf comments. Finch tries to remain professional but quickly reaches his breaking point when Buddy calls him an “angry elf.” Finch then initiates his own trial by combat and attacks Buddy before storming out.

This is a great example of how even the most well-meaning employee can unknowingly engage in conduct giving rise to a harassment complaint. As the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has explained, harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on a protected status such as disability, race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), etc. It becomes unlawful where (1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or (2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Had an employee complained about conduct like Buddy’s, the employer’s best practice would be to investigate immediately,  interview potential witnesses, provide the accused employee with an opportunity to tell his/her side of the story, and take prompt remedial action reasonably designed to end any harassment. Other best practices include regular employee and supervisor training as well as having a strong harassment policy clearly stating that harassment will not be tolerated, the various avenues for reporting such issues, and that retaliation will not be tolerated. I’ll leave the workplace violence issue for another post.

Thankfully for Buddy, his tale ends on a cheerful note and teaches us that the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear. In the meantime, what’s your favorite color?

 

Office Christmas Party–strategies to avoid the legal fallout

November 10, 2016 - by: Robin Kallor 0 COMMENTS
Robin Kallor

You may be wondering why I selected to write about a movie that is not yet in the theaters.  Truthfully, I do not need to see the movie to write about its relevance to HR issues. In fact, all that’s necessary is to read the title—Office Christmas Party.

Yes, we are in Human Resources. What that means is that when others look forward to getting dressed up and celebrating year-end with their colleagues in a laid-back social setting for which the company often spares no expense, we HR professionals get stomachaches in anticipation of the event. When others spend time at the party kicking back and enjoying a couple of cocktails at the five-hour open bar, we spend our time in a corner covering our eyes or doing damage control. While others need the next day off to nurse a nasty hangover, we HR professionals are “up and at ’em”—again doing damage control. We are the stiffs, the Grinches, the Scrooges. Even during the planning stages, the more fun the party sounds, the louder the screeches in our brain become.

Understand why we are like this. This is not a “chicken or the egg” situation, and we were not born this way. We are this way—complete buzzkills—because NO GOOD COMES FROM A LOT OF ALCOHOL AT WORK-Sdrunk businessman drinking champagne wearing xmas santa hatPONSORED EVENTS. It sounds fun, but we all have to go to work the next day, and what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas. Ever. In fact, there is a nonstop flight from Vegas over to the water cooler or the Keurig.

Keeping with that mantra, here are some handy tips to keep in mind when planning your next holiday party:

  1. Send an e-mail or memo reminder to employees before the holiday party. While I can see employees’ eyes rolling, it’s always prudent to send out a memo or e-mail to employees before the party reminding them to limit alcohol consumption and to dress appropriately. The reminder should also reiterate that employees are expected to adhere to the company’s antiharassment rules.
  2. Limit alcohol served. As stated above, nothing good comes from too much alcohol at work functions. Therefore, consider having the bar open for a limited period of time at the beginning of the event as opposed to the entire party. Additionally, consider handing out a limited number of drink tickets per guest.
  3. Make arrangements with a local taxi company for return rides. To reduce risks associated with driving under the influence, the company should make arrangements with a local taxi company to provide employees who have consumed too much alcohol with return rides home. This will avoid giving employees control over the decision at a time when they are tired and unwilling to make their own arrangements.

Consider other alternatives to the “all-out” holiday party—possibly a nice luncheon during the workday without alcohol, a family-friendly weekend afternoon gathering, or some sort of group activity.

In sum, I don’t feel the need to see the movie; just reading the title sends my blood pressure rising.

What did Ryan Lochte do? 8 tips for waterproof investigations

September 06, 2016 - by: Robin Kallor 1 COMMENTS
Robin Kallor

Despite the conclusion of the 2016 Summer Olympics, Ryan Lochte is still “under water” with questions still looming after Rio police reports that the American gold-medal Olympian fabricated a story about being robbed at gunpoint in Brazil. Lochte initially reported that he and three other U.S. swimmersJames Feigen, Jack Conger, and Gunnar Bentzwere robbed at gunpoint as they were returning from a party.  Hand with magnifying glass.

Brazilian authorities reported a markedly different account: The American swimmers vandalized a gas station and then got into an altercation with security guards. Since the news broke, Lochte changed his tune a bit to the press and admitted that he exaggerated his initial story, but the International Olympic Committee set up a disciplinary commission to investigate Lochte and the three other U.S. swimmers. This commission will determine what consequences, if any, the swimmers will face.

Like any workplace investigation, the IOC will need to determine who should conduct the investigation, who will be questioned as part of the investigation, the commission will review whatever video and photographs of the incident exist and then it will make conclusions and determine the appropriate action to take, if any, following these conclusions.

What if Lochte was an employee who was alleged to have engaged in this conduct while on a business trip?  In the workplace, as a general rule, an employer has a legal duty to conduct a prompt, thorough, and unbiased investigation when it becomes aware of improper conduct. For example, if the employee was terminated without any investigation, the employer is exposed to a claim by that employee. If the conduct is ignored, and then occurs again, the employer is exposed to claims of negligent supervision. If an employee complains about harassment by another employee, federal and state anti-discrimination laws mandate a prompt, remedial, and unbiased investigation.

When done properly, workplace investigations and prompt remedial action can serve to defend against employment-related claims and preclude recovery. However, when done improperly (e.g., when disciplinary action is taken on the basis of a poorly conducted investigation, the evidence doesn’t justify the conclusions reached, or  there is a failure to take appropriate action following the investigation), there are significant risks of exposure. Because these investigations are tricky, here is a list of guidelines that employers should keep in mind:

  1. Determine interim steps.  Depending upon the nature/gravity of the conduct, it may be suitable to place the accused on a paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.  It is important to reassure the employee being investigated that no conclusion of wrongdoing has been made, that the investigation will be unbiased and will conclude as promptly as possible.  The complaining party and the accused should be reminded of the organization’s policy against retaliation.
  2. Choose an investigator.  The investigator must be impartial and must be well trained.  Who is best suited to conduct the investigation?   Is there someone at your organization who has the experience and the time to promptly and thoroughly investigate the issue?  Is that person too close to the accused or the complaining party or the incident itself that could create a perception of bias?  If so, perhaps referring the investigation to an outside investigator would be prudent.  Neither the accused nor the complaining party should have any role in the investigation and should not have any supervisory control over the investigator.
  3. Review documents.  Review all relevant written policies as well as all documents that may be relevant to the incident/incidents that you are investigating.  Consider reviewing personnel files of the accused and the complaining party.
  4. Plan the investigation. Prepare a checklist of all witnesses you plan to interview make sure to outline your questions beforehand.  While you want to plan, you will also need to be flexible enough to speak to others/ask questions not on the list, as the investigation unfolds.
  5. Conduct witness interviews.  Interview the complaining party, the accused and every witness whose name was provided by the complaining party, the accused or if any other witness lists them as persons who witnessed the incident/incidents or could corroborate either party and who was present during all of the complained about conduct.  There may be a need to conduct additional interviews with witnesses already interviewed based upon information later discovered.  Questions should be open-ended (who, what, when, why, how, who was present, etc.) and the investigator should take note of body language of the witnesses.  The investigator should also request all relevant documents from witnesses during the course of the investigation.  The tone of the interviewer should be professional at all times.
  6. Draw conclusions.  Conclusions will often require credibility determinations.  Credibility determinations will require consideration of the following:  Is the witness’ version of facts believable?  Does the witness seem to be telling the truth?  Does the person have any reason to lie?  Are there documents or other witnesses that support this witness’ version of the events?  Has the accused had a history of similar behavior in the past?  Investigation reports should include answers to each of these questions and indicate how the credibility determinations are derived.
  7. Prepare the investigation report.  The report should include a list of documents reviewed, list of witnesses interviewed, the nature and scope of the investigation, a summary of the investigation, as well as conclusions and recommendations.  The report should specify how the conclusions were reached and why the recommendations are made.
  8. Communicate findings to complaining party and accused.  In the event the investigator concludes that there was wrongdoing, then appropriate action should be taken and documented and the relationship should be further monitored.

Undoubtedly, we will not be spared any details of the findings of the Lochte investigation, and whether the investigation will result in ramifications for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. “Thankfully,” his narcissism guarantees that, if we are not hearing about the incident in Rio, we will be hearing about his performance in this season’s Dancing With the Stars airing soon.

#Fired: Post a tweet, lose your job

August 23, 2016 - by: Katie O'Shea 0 COMMENTS
Katie O'Shea

Many people enjoy spouting off what they view as 140-character tidbits of wisdom on the social media platform Twitter. But recently several individuals have found themselves in trouble with their employers (read: former employers) for their tweets or other social media posts.  Tweet

One recent example was a loan officer from Michigan who crafted a racist tweet, not worth repeating here, following First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. Twitter users saw the tweet and tracked down the home loan company the woman worked for. The result was a flood of tweets directed to the company’s Twitter profile calling their attention to the tweet and asking if the employee’s views represented the company’s values.

One individual tweeted to the company, “you can’t tell me someone who holds this view on the @FLOTUS is not abusing her powers on other minorities.” Others went straight to the point and asked the company, “Will you continue to employ someone who is racist?”

The company saw the tweets and immediately took action by issuing a statement in response on Twitter. The company denounced the woman’s reprehensible comments and stated she was no longer employed with the company. The company emphasized that they do not condone such comments, which were made on the employee’s personal account.

Similarly, a national bank employee lost her job earlier this summer after a Facebook rant filled with racist remarks. The employee’s profile listed that she was an employee of the bank, and social media users immediately began sending the bank thousands of comments about the post. The bank investigated the post and terminated the employee, issuing a statement that they were aware of the reprehensible post on Facebook and the employee had been terminated. In this instance, many customers even threatened to close their accounts with the bank.

The public appeared particularly attuned to this issue given that in 2013 the bank was ordered to pay more than 1,000 African American job applicants over $2 million in back wages and interest after a judge found one of the company’s offices had discriminated against them based on their race.

Even celebrities like Blake Shelton, a judge on the popular singing competition show The Voice, have been called out by the Twitter masses for their tweets. Just last week, the country singer tweeted what some have dubbed a “non-apology” for past racist and homophobic tweets. Some of the tweets in question stem as far back as 2008, proving once again that the Internet never forgets.

With social media, it’s possible for a tweet or post to go viral immediately, and companies must be attuned to their social mentions and quickly take action if problematic posts surface. As with the bank case, delaying an investigation and taking action could cost a company customers and create bad PR.

If a company is considering taking action against an employee for a problematic post on social media, HR should be sure to immediately save or print a copy of the post in question in case the employee attempts to delete it. Employers also should keep in mind that some states might limit an employer’s ability to investigate social media or take action against an applicant or employee based on off-duty conduct.

Of course, employers also must be cognizant of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in analyzing employees’ social media posts. In recent cases, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has found that certain employee posts, and even rants, were protected activity under the NLRA because they pertained to concerted activity and union activity. The NLRB has found that employers violated the NLRA by terminating employees for participation in protected conduct, and has awarded back pay.

In light of these recent tweets, it’s important for employers to evaluate their social media policies and consider how they might respond to an employee who makes a racist, sexist, or otherwise inappropriate remark on a personal social media page. Employers should be extremely careful when disciplining employees over social media posts, however, especially if the posts pertain to conditions of employment. Employers considering disciplinary action or termination based on an employee’s social media post should act swiftly but consult with counsel beforehand.

Success through rudeness and hostility

June 08, 2016 - by: Matt Gilley 0 COMMENTS
Matt Gilley

Silicon Valley’s third season is in full swing on HBO, which raised a question in my mind: if Michael Scott’s Dunder Mifflin warranted an entire blog from the FordHarrison crew, isn’t the Hacker Hostel’s Erlich Bachman at least due his own post?Silicon Valley

My answer: Of course he is!

For the uninitiated, Silicon Valley is a brilliant sitcom that chronicles the ups and downs of a fictional startup, Pied Piper. Erlich, expertly played by comedian T.J. Miller, is an entrepreneur of sorts who plowed the relatively modest proceeds from the sale of his prior venture into a house near Palo Alto (and, judging by the episodes, into a copious amount of marijuana). He dubbed his home the “Hacker Hostel,” where he allows select entrepreneurs to live rent-free in exchange for 10% of their companies.

At the beginning of the series, if any of the hostel’s “incubees” have paid off for Ehrlich, there’s no evidence of it. In a stroke of blind fortune, however, venture capitalists latch onto Richard Hendrick’s Pied Piper, a clunky music app that just happens to have a killer compression algorithm built into it. Suddenly, venture capitalists and tech companies set off a feeding frenzy to get their hands on the new tech. Pied Piper vaults from the object of Ehrlich’s ire to the apple of his eyeand he vaults from middling tech entrepreneur onto the board of Silicon Valley’s hottest new company.

This is where the fun begins. Ehrlich is a train wreck on a personal levelan undisciplined, crass, intemperate, ungoverned, and thoroughly hilarious lout. Pied Piper is in its earliest stages, so right now its legal spend is devoted to corporate lawyers and litigators who fend off lawsuits over the ownership of its gold-plated IT. However, if Pied Piper makes it, and if Ehrlich remains involved in the company, it is sure to make some fictional employment lawyer a ton of money.

Ehrlich spits out litigation-worthy nuggets faster than an Uzi spits bullets, so I had plenty of options to choose from. (The hard partand this was really, truly difficultwas finding quotes clean enough to use for this post.) Consider the following, however, and if you are involved with any new business, just know that you should never, never, never, never come within a million miles of anything like these excerpts in your own company if you like the idea of striking it big someday:

  • The first episode of Season Three offered a doozy. Ehrlich strutted into a meeting with Pied Piper’s seasoned new CEO and was none too pleased to find that their venture capital masters had hired an older man to fill the role. The new CEO, “Action” Jack Barker, tried to play nice and let Ehrlich know, “I’m a big fan!” Ehrlich was ready, though: “Oh really, of what? Metamucil? Polio? The phonograph? A nice piece of fish? Segregated water fountains? Senior citizen discounts …? Erectile dysfunction …? Deviled eggs as an entree? Liking Ike?” Ehrlich clearly does not appreciate the nuances of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.
  • Thankfully, Ehrlich and the Pied Piper team were in an all-male meeting for this next one. He was convinced that the venture capitalists courting Pied Piper would offer more to invest in the Series A round depending on how intolerable his behavior was during the pitch meetings, declaring, “If they want to negotiate using hostility and rudeness, well, they picked the wrong guy.” (Incredibly, he was right.) During one such meeting, he glared across the table and growled, “One of you is one of the least attractive people I’ve ever met and I’m not going to say which one.” That, my friends, is a walking hostile work environment.
  • Finally, Ehrlich seems to keep his own counsel. When a visitor came to the hostel seeking to get in on the ground floor at Pied Piper, Ehrlich elbowed him out the door, warning, “In the State of California, you can kill a man for entering your house without permission.” I’m no California lawyer, but I’m pretty sure he’s wrong about that.

Exercise Aniston-esque restraint when analyzing offensive employee posts

February 22, 2016 - by: Ed Carlstedt 0 COMMENTS
Ed Carlstedt

by Ed Carlstedt

This week’s employment law lesson comes to us from the movie Horrible Bosses. In the movie, Julia (played by Jennifer Aniston) is a dentist who employs dental assistant Dale (played by Charlie Day). After Julia uses her boss status to torture and torment Dale for most of the movie, Dale finally records her improprieties and delivers to her the following long-overdue payback speech:

This is what’s gonna happen. I’m going to take a two-week-long, very expensive holiday with my fiancée. Let’s call it a honeymoon. And YOU’RE going to pay for it! Then I’m going to return to a nice, rape-free workplace from now on. Because if you so much as LOOK at my sexy little a**, Julia, I will have yours locked the f*** up you CRAZY B**** WH***! Man, that felt GOOD!

In the movie, Dale’s quote is an amusing moment of vindication and redemption, one that Julia’s conduct warrants. You literally find yourself rooting for Dale as he delivers the obscenity-laced tirade. The notion of telling off a horrible boss without fear of reprisal is every Woman Watching Shocking Message On Social Network Late Nightaggrieved employee’s dream. And in the movie, there was nothing Aniston’s character could do other than sit there and take it. But in real life, what does an employer do when an employee posts similar obscenities about it on social media. Well, if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has anything to say about it, you might have to adopt an Aniston-esque approach to responding to the potty-mouthed employee.

In Pier Sixty, LLC, 362 NLRB No. 59 (Mar. 31, 2015), a managerial-level employee of a catering business (Bob) asked several staff-level employees to spread out during a fundraising event and stop chitchatting. One of the employees was so offended by the manager’s instructions that he posted the following on Facebook:

Bob is such a NASTY MOTHER F***** don’t know how to talk to people!!!!!! F*** his mother and his entire f****** family!!!! What a LOSER!!!! Vote YES for the UNION!!!!!!!

Shortly thereafter, the employer learned about the Facebook post, conducted an investigation, and terminated the employee. In analyzing the employee’s Facebook post, the NLRB found that his comments were protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) because they pertained to concerted activity and union activity. The NLRB found that the employee’s comments (all of his comments, including the F-bombs and accompanying family love-making references) were protected. Therefore, the NLRB found that the employer violated the NLRA when it terminated the employee for his participation in protected conduct, and it awarded him back pay.

Several other cases adhere to the sentiments of the Pier Sixty case, including Three D, LLC v. NLRB, 2015 WL 6161477 (2d Cir. 2015), and Whole Foods Market, Inc., 363 NLRB No. 87 (Dec. 24, 2015). These cases demonstrate that employers should be extraordinarily careful when disciplining employees over social media posts, particularly when the posts or questionable conduct pertains in any way to conditions of employment.

Based on these decisions, the NLRB and courts are likely to broadly define protected activity under the NLRA, even when the employee’s comments are riddled with profanity and make statements damaging to the employer. Thus, just like Jennifer Aniston in Horrible Bosses, employers may be forced to turn the other cheek when confronted with what appear to be obscene and inflammatory employee remarks. To the extent you are an employer considering disciplinary action based on an employee’s social media post, we highly recommend you consult with counsel before taking such action.

Go Scrooge yourself: 5 biz holiday party tips

December 07, 2015 - by: Ed Carlstedt 0 COMMENTS
Ed Carlstedt

‘Tis the season for your company’s annual holiday party. And while the notion of drinking, eating and generally enjoying merriment with your coworkers, subordinates, and superiors may seem innocuous, it is anything but. What seems like a festive occasion during the most wonderful time of the year is, if sledded incorrectly, a mine field of potential employment law mishaps. And while I don’t mean to be a Scrooge, this week’s lesson comes from a scene in one of my favorite holiday classics, the movie Scrooged with Bill Murray. What can we learn from this seasonal, cinematic favorite? Well, you can learn that, for purposes of the company holiday party, you should consider “Scrooge-ing” yourself. office holiday party

In the movie, Bill Murray’s character, Frank Cross (the modern day Scrooge), is visited by three ghosts, several of whom transport him back in time to certain life events that froze his heart and led to his hatred for Christmas. During one of his time-traveling trips, Frank visits his office during a wild late-1960s holiday party. People are seen drinking heavily, dancing, flirting with coworkers, and dressing inappropriately, and one woman, Tina (who is wearing a rather skimpy Santa’s helper outfit) is even handing out photocopies of her derriere.

As the coworkers are partying with reckless impunity, Frank passes through the party while completing his work tasks. Frank is wearing his work attire and isn’t drinking. The boss asks Frank to note the ongoing party and implies that he should join. Frank politely declines and advises his boss that he has several projects that he needs to complete. Tina then approaches Frank, hands him a copy of her “resume,” and appears particularly enthused to see Frank. Frank essentially brushes her off and goes about his work. The merry office party, like the little drummer boy, marches on.

So what lessons can we learn from this scene? For purposes of the company holiday party, go Scrooge yourself, at least a little bit. Here are my top five tips for conducting yourself appropriately at the company holiday party, regardless of whether you are the CEO or the most recently hired file clerk.

  1. Dress appropriately. A company holiday party is still a work event. It’s not a Vegas nightclub. Stay away from clothes that will draw a lot of attention to you and provide fodder for your coworkers. If you look in the mirror and question whether your outfit is inappropriate, it probably is. Go change and put on something more appropriate.
  2. Don’t flirt with coworkers (again, it’s not a Vegas nightclub) or engage in other inappropriate conversations such as office gossip, politics, religion, etc. If this effectively eliminates 95 percent of your conversation, you should consider skipping the holiday party and reading some books and newspapers to broaden your conversation base.
  3. Don’t drink excessively (see Vegas nightclub reference here). Know your tolerance and drink in a manner that will permit you to maintain your professionalism. You don’t have to go full Frank Cross, but drink in moderation. If you drink, consider calling Uber or taking a cab home.
  4. Don’t stay until the wee hours of the night (save that for the Vegas nightclub). If history and college tell us anything, it’s that very bad things can happen late at night, especially when people drink. Plan to leave before the scheduled end of the party and stick to that plan. If you feel yourself getting drunk, regardless of the time, arrange for an Uber or a cab and go home immediately.
  5. Don’t assume everyone celebrates a particular holiday (no applicable Vegas nightclub reference). Many holidays are celebrated during December including Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, Festivus (see my earlier blog referencing Seinfeld), etc. Be sensitive to the fact that we’re a diverse country with diverse holidays and rituals.

Moral of the story: When it comes to the holiday office party, Scrooge yourself a little bit. In other words, do the exact opposite of what you would do in a Vegas nightclub. Happy holidays!

American Horror Story: Hotel—Gaga for this deliciously terrifying workplace

October 12, 2015 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

The latest installment of American Horror Story was off to a screaming start with the premiere of Hotel. If you missed it, proceed with caution as this article contains some minor spoilers on the first episode. This season is set in a sprawling art deco hotel that manages to be both beautiful and frightening at the same time, much like its penthouse occupant, The Countess (played by Lady Gaga). From vampires (large and small) devouring hotel guests to The Addiction Demon crawling out of mattresses with a drill bit dildo, working in this hotel is not for the faint of heart.  read more…

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