It’s never easy, but Oprah delivers layoff news in person

March 09, 2015 - by: Marilyn Moran 7 COMMENTS
Marilyn Moran

Last week, entertainment powerhouse and former talk-show host Oprah Winfrey announced that Harpo Studios in Chicago will be closing its doors by the end of the year, resulting in the loss of nearly 200 jobs. In typical Oprah fashion, she delivered the bad news to her employees in person, probably ambling around the room, microphone-in-hand, and breaking into her famous “ugly cry” for good measure. Handling employee layoffs are never easy, even if you’re Oprah, but here are three steps to follow if your business ever needs to downsize:

Harpo Studios, Chicago

1. Develop a Plan.

A reduction in force can open up a Pandora’s Box of potential liability if not handled appropriately, so before you start handing out pink slips, you’ve got to have a plan in place. To navigate the murky waters of employee layoffs, companies should obtain experienced employment law counsel to draw up severance agreements, review layoff criteria for potential disparate impact, and ensure compliance with the myriad of laws implicated by employee terminations. One such law, the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA), requires an employer to make specific disclosures to an employee over 40 years of age and to provide the employee with additional time to review, and revoke, an agreement to waive federal age discrimination claims. Many states impose additional requirements, above and beyond OWBPA’s protections, and there are a multitude of other state laws that govern issues such as when an employee must receive his or her last paycheck and whether the employee must be paid for accrued but unused vacation time.

Of course, the first question you will need to answer when planning a reduction in force is what criteria you will use to determine who will be selected for layoff. Across-the-board reductions based on lack of seniority, while easy to administer, usually are not the most effective business solution. Instead, in a large workforce comprised of different departments and job functions, layoffs should generally be based on employees’ particular skill sets, with an eye toward maintaining those departmental functions that will improve the organization’s overall efficiency.  For example, if Oprah wants to focus her business operations on hard medicine rather than psychological counseling, it makes sense for her to retain Dr. Oz over Dr. Phil, even though Dr. Phil’s been around longer. Whatever the criteria used, it is crucial for the company to articulate clearly its reasons for selecting a particular employee, or group of employees, for layoff and be able to explain how the layoffs served the company’s legitimate business needs.

2. Comply with the WARN Act.

For large lay-offs, companies also will need to comply with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act).  The WARN Act requires covered employers to provide employees 60 calendar days’ advance written notice of a plant closing or mass layoff. To be covered under the WARN Act, an employer must have either (a) at least 100 employees, excluding part-time employees, or (b) 100 or more employees who, in the aggregate, work at least 4,000 hours per week. The employer also must provide notice to the state and the chief elected official of the local government where the layoff or plant closing will occur. In addition to the federal WARN Act, many states have so-called “mini-WARN” statutes that employers must follow during a reduction in workforce. WARN laws are complicated because they contain many eligibility and notice requirements that differ across jurisdictions. As a result, it bears repeating that companies should seek the assistance of experienced employment law counsel before downsizing their operations to ensure they are in compliance with all applicable laws.

3. Treat Your Employees with Dignity and Respect.

Perhaps the most important tip for handling employee layoffs is also the simplest: Treat your employees with dignity and respect throughout the termination process. While you may not be able to dole out cars to your departing employees or surprise them with a giant check like Oprah, providing employees with open communication, sufficient notice, and emotional support will go a long way toward helping them through a difficult situation. Besides, nothing will kill the morale and loyalty of a remaining employee more quickly than cramming his buddy’s cubicle contents into a banker’s box and subjecting him to a humiliating walk-of-shame to the nearest exit.

Hopefully, employee layoffs are not in your company’s future, but if and when that time comes, you will be ready as long as you develop a plan with the assistance of experienced counsel, follow the law, and treat your employees with the dignity and respect they deserve. As Oprah would say, that’s what I know for sure.

Live long and diversify your workforce

March 02, 2015 - by: Andy Tanick 1 COMMENTS
Andy Tanick

The death of Leonard Nimoy this week brought back many memories of the actor’s classic portrayal of Mr. Spock in the original “Star Trek” television series and subsequent movies, as well as his talents as a photographer, writer, and lecturer.Man giving Vulcan salute

Spock, as personified by Nimoy, embodied many qualities that employers value in their workforce, such as intelligence, logic, and loyalty. But as I was lying awake at night desperately trying to think of some justification for paying tribute to Nimoy–who was, by all accounts, truly a kind, thoughtful, and intellectual man–in a blog about employment law, something else struck me: how “Star Trek” depicted the ultimate diverse workplace, decades before anyone was even talking about such things.

Other television shows in the 1960s were beginning to introduce racial diversity into their fictional workplaces, such as Linc Hayes in “Mod Squad” and Peggy Fair in “Mannix,” but Star Trek took the concept to a whole new level. The U.S.S. Enterprise’s crew included not only an African-American communications officer, an Asian helmsman, a Scottish chief engineer, and a Russian ensign, but also a first officer, Spock, who was not just from another nation, but from a different planet and indeed a different species altogether (well, half of him anyway). With apologies to those who believe men are from Mars and women are from Venus, this was the first truly interplanetary workforce.

While the other diverse members of the Enterprise crew did not (as far as I can recall) really act any differently from their American, Caucasian counterparts such as Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy, Spock was a different story. Being of two different worlds, Spock would occasionally let his human emotions show, but for the most part, he conducted himself in accordance with his Vulcan heritage: cold, unemotional, and of course, very logical. The ways in which his personality and conduct varied from his human counterparts often produced conflict on the Enterprise, as well as comic relief. But ultimately, the other crew members embraced Spock and appreciated the different viewpoint and perspective he brought to their traveling workplace.

Today’s diverse workplaces often deal with similar issues, as employees learn to live and work with co-workers from different cultures–albeit not different planets or, for the most part, species. We have learned, for example, that some employees may dress differently based on the customs of their ancestry. Or maybe that a particular female co-worker from a different background may not feel comfortable shaking hands with a male client. We know that during company events, the culinary offerings should include alternatives for those employees whose cultures do not eat beef or other types of foods. And of course, different cultural backgrounds often mean different religious backgrounds. Thus, we try not to make non-Christian employees feel excluded by having “Christmas” parties or scheduling events during those employees’ important religious holidays, and we accommodate employees’ beliefs by allowing days off for religious holidays, providing prayer breaks, broadening the dress code to allow for religion-based clothing preferences, etc.

Not being a “Trekkie” myself, I can’t identify any specific “Star Trek” episode where Captain Kirk had to pause in the mission of “going where no man [or woman] [or other gender] had gone before” to order a special vegetarian meal for Officer Spock, nor do I recall any instances when Kirk had to call time out from his inter-species romantic liaisons to cover for Spock while he had the day off from work for a Vulcan holiday. But hey, it could have happened. If the Starfleet’s Human–make that “Species”–Resources professionals were earning their keep, they would have made sure that the Crew Handbook addressed the need to accommodate the cultural and religious beliefs and practices of all employees–even the ill-fated, red-shirted, anonymous crew members who would accompany the show’s stars in landing expeditions. And if any members of Starfleet didn’t want to accommodate members of different species, I’d like to think that Mr. Spock would have told them that their opposition was “highly illogical.” After all, when it comes to adapting to changing workplace demographics, resistance is futile.

“I’m Ron ******* Swanson”

February 09, 2015 - by: Matt Gilley 2 COMMENTS
Matt Gilley

Ron Swanson is the man. If you’re not a Parks & Recreation devotee, I can’t recommend enough that you tune in if for no other reason than to enjoy his morsels of wit and wisdom. For the uninitiated, Ron Swanson is fictional Pawnee, Indiana’s, director of Parks & Recreation. He’s a crusty, deadpan, hard-core libertarian who objects to the very existence of his own employer. Thanks to the show’s mockumentary format, Ron treats viewers to a steady diet of quips and advice that are absolutely hilarious.  Ron Swanson!

I have several favorites, and I’ve picked a few that touch on HR issues. Feel free to add others in the comments:

 The less I know about other people’s affairs, the happier I am. I’m not interested in caring about people. I once worked with a guy for three years and never learned his name. Best friend I ever had. We still never talk sometimes.

Sure, he sounds distant and callous. On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure Ron isn’t on to something here. One of the most difficult lessons for a new manager is learning that you’re no longer just one of the team. I often see employers in a bind because new front line managers don’t fully understand that they represent the company now, which means they have to leadand occasionally disciplineemployees who are friends. Don’t get me wrong–you want your managers to have a good relationship with employees, but an appropriate level of distance is healthy.

It’s always a good idea to demonstrate to your coworkers that you are capable of withstanding a tremendous amount of pain.

Again, we have some hyperbole here, but any good manager has to earn a certain level of respect. Now, in this particular scene, Ron just faked pulling his own tooth with a set of pliers. I think that’s a bit far to establish healthy respect or fear, but still….

 There are three acceptable haircuts: high and tight, crew cut, buzz cut.

Ron is set in his ways. He keeps the same haircut (high and tight), wears the same Halloween costume every year, and eats (a lot of) the same food. This one could get him in trouble, thoughwoe unto the first Pawnee Parks & Rec employee who seeks a religious accommodation to this rather restrictive grooming preference.

 Great job, everyone. The reception will be held in each of our individual houses, alone.

 This one may not earn many friends, but it will certainly avoid the complications that come with the annual holiday party.

 Child labor laws are ruining this country.

 To be fair to Ron, I really think he’s saying … no, forget it. I don’t suggest that you take any lessons from this one.

Elf: one too many Christmas spirits

December 19, 2014 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 1 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

With Christmas just around the corner, my family and I have begun our yearly ritual of re-watching our favorite holiday films. At the top of the list is a relatively newer addition, Elf.  The comedy stars Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human who crawls into Santa’s sack and ends up being raised by Papa Elf at the North Pole. After learning that he is actually human rather than an elf, Buddy decides to travel to New York to find his biological father, who works at a children’s book company and happens to be on the Naughty List. Much of the film’s comedy and charm comes from Buddy’s child-like innocence and genuine holiday cheer as he tries to navigate the cynical world of New York City. shutterstock_236981068At his father’s office, this same innocence leads Buddy to mistake a mail room worker’s whiskey for delicious maple syrup. As you can imagine, a six-foot tall elf can cause quite a ruckus in the workplace after having too many spirits.

Employers are well aware that illicit drug use and alcohol abuse can be costly in the workplace. Drug-free workplace programs can be powerful tools in spreading prevention messages and intervening early with those who have already begun to use drugs. For many individuals, especially those who may deny that their use of drugs is problematic, workplace-based programs can be a critical step along the road to treatment and recovery. Every workplace is different, and drug-free workplace programs should be tailored to match a company’s individual needs. Here are some general recommendations for such programs:

  • Have a written drug-free workplace policy explaining why the policy was enacted and providing a clear description of prohibited behaviors as well as an explanation of the consequences for violating the policy.
  • Train supervisors to understand the policy and recognize employees with performance issues that may be related to substance abuse.  Training also should explain how to refer employees for professional help.
  • Implement employee education programs providing information on the policy, how to comply with the policy, the consequences for violations, and general information about the dangers of substance abuse.
  • Have an employee assistance program to help prevent, identify, and resolve issues relating to substance abuse.
  • Implement drug testing to deter and detect drug use and to provide concrete evidence for intervention.

Luckily for Buddy, he manages to escape his inadvertent workplace drunkenness relatively unscathed and is free to return to his true vice–sugar, sugar, and more sugar. Feel free to share your holiday traditions, cautionary tales of workplace spirits, and also your thoughts on the new animated Elf special starring another one of my favorites, the talented Jim Parsons. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to our readers.

 

The Abominable Boss Man

October 31, 2014 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

In honor of Halloween, this post will address some of the many potential workplace issues in the Pixar film, Monsters, Inc.  If you’ve been living under a rock and have managed to not see this film (or its recent sequel), here’s a quick recap. A city called Monstropolis is inhabited by monsters and is powered by the screams of children in the human world. shutterstock_98138216At Monsters, Inc., employees (or “Scarers”) have the job of scaring human children and collecting their screams to power the city. The company, however, is facing a serious dilemma and potential energy crisis, as human children are become harder to frighten. Through a series of amusing misadventures, the top Scarer, Sulley, and his best friend, Mike, end up caring for a little girl they dub “Boo.”

In trying to return Boo safely to the human world, Mike and Sulley discover that one of the Scarers, Randall, plans to kidnap children (particularly Boo) and use a torture machine on company property to extract their screams. Randall tries to use the torture machine on Mike, but Sulley saves the day. Sulley reports Randall and his torture device to the company chairman, who responds by promptly exiling Mike and Sulley to the Himalayas. I won’t spoil the ending for the two or three of you who have not yet seen the movie.

Thankfully, in the human world, your boss can’t respond to a workplace complaint by  shipping you off to the Abominable Snowman (though this banished yeti happens to be much friendlier than expected). Indeed, a number of state and federal laws prohibit discrimination and retaliation against employees for reporting certain workplace issues. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) is intended to “assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions . . . .” OSHA contains a nondiscrimination provision, which prohibits employers from discharging or otherwise discriminating against an employee because the employee filed a safety or health complaint or otherwise engaged in protected activity under the Act.

The monster equivalent of OSHA might have saved Mike and Sulley a trip to the Himalayas, but then it would have been a rather short movie. Plus, the Abominable Snowman would still be sorting mail at Monsters, Inc., rather than  serving up some delicious snow cones. Don’t worry–the yellow ones are lemon-flavored. Happy Halloween!

Halloween tips to avoid a total nightmare

October 27, 2014 - by: Josh Sudbury 2 COMMENTS
Josh Sudbury

It’s that time of year again. Time for Halloween and all the candy, cheesy ghost stories, and inappropriate costumes that come with it. While Halloween can be fun and exciting, the fallout for employers can be all fright.

Office Parties. While workplace costume parties can lighten the mood in the office, employers should be proactive in dealing with the potential issues that can arise.

shutterstock_157867430First and foremost, employers should communicate simple and clear rules or guidelines to their employees in advance of any party. Employees should be reminded that professionalism is still expected of them at work, both in their conduct and their costumes. This is especially important if your employees will interact with customers during the workday, as an offensive or inappropriate costume could cause more than just internal employee relations issues. Employers should give their employees examples of what is potentially inappropriate, so that there is no guesswork involved for the employee.

Inappropriate costumes can include those costumes that reveal too much skin or, depending the type of workplace you operate, those that have the potential to compromise safety. This category can also include costumes that touch on hot-button political or social topics, such as an employee lampooning a high-profile political figure or dressing as a nun or priest. While some employees may be unaffected by these costumes, employers must be sensitive to how all their employees may deal with the notions raised by such costumes. read more…

Ready for kickoff

September 03, 2014 - by: Matt Gilley 0 COMMENTS
Matt Gilley

I live in the South. This time of year, that means college football; that also means otherwise healthy friendships will erupt with enough recrimination, envy, taunts, and ill will to put the Corleones and Tattaglias to shame. Everyone crows that this is their year , we’re going to come out on top, and what-do-you-mean-that-overtime-loss-last-month-means-we-can’t-play-for-the-championship? shutterstock_165900731(Except folks like me, a Wake Forest alum, who find comfort in high-minded humility, of course.)

College football has never really found a satisfying way to crown its champion. It used to be that sportswriters picked it; then the coaches started their own poll and jumped in the mix. They tried a championship game, and then the number crunchers came out with the BCS, a computerized system that seemed to factor in everything (unless it was important, and then it was left out).  Then Colorado walloped Nebraska–and Nebraska advanced to the championship game. .

Now the college football dons have shifted course again. We finally get a “playoff” among four teams chosen by a “selection committee” meant to take the edge off the BCS’s cold math and reintroduce a bit of the eye test back into crowning a champ. Semifinal games will rotate among the “Classic Bowls”–the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, and Peach (for any of you who shivered through 1980s-era Peach Bowls in old County Stadium in Atlanta, the “Classic” designation is probably worth a chuckle). The semifinal winners will advance to the championship.

Problem solved. Right?

Probably not. That fifth team surely won’t be happy. You can count on demands to expand the playoff in coming years. Why? One reason I expect controversy is the selection committee is going to be using the eye test to pick its contestants. For sure, they will look at objective factors like strength of schedule, overall record, and such, but when you get down to the difference between the fourth and fifth teams, subjective factors are going to have to enter into the equation.

The same is true for human resources professionals. As much as employers try to rely on the most objective hiring metrics they can, the subjective factors cannot be discounted. Will this person be “a fit”? If we have to reduce staff, who has the more flexible skills to take on added responsibilities in different areas?

You will eventually find yourself in a situation like the college football selection committee, having to explain the objective and subjective factors behind who was in and who was out. Subjective factors are by no means out of bounds. They often, however, are the factors that find their way into the center of employment claims. Documenting performance expectations, giving long and serious consideration, and developing a clear job-related rationale for choosing certain employees or prospects over others are critical to showing a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for your actions.

What HR pros can learn from Casey Kasem

June 23, 2014 - by: Andy Tanick 1 COMMENTS
Andy Tanick

If you were a teenager in ’70s or ’80s who loved pop music, you undoubtedly recall huddling next to your AM transistor radio, maybe with your cassette recorder on standby so you could hit “record” at the just the right time, listening to “American Top 40” with its mellifluous host Casey Kasem. Each week, Casey would count down and play the current top 40 songs, as determined by Billboard magazine, over the course of his three-hour syndicated radio broadcast. In addition to the songs, Casey would sprinkle in trivia about the recording artists, dig back into the “AT40 Archives” for a few “golden oldies,” and bring a tear to our eyes with the “long-distance dedication” of a special song from a star-crossed lover to his or her far-away soul mate.
shutterstock_108710234

Those of us who grew up with Casey were saddened this week upon the news that he had passed away at age 82. Although many of the recent headlines followed his family’s unseemly bickering over his care in his final days, most observers were able to ignore that side-show and remember the legacy of the man who not only popularized the idea of the “top [fill in the number]” countdown list, but also provided the voice of Shaggy in 40 years’ worth of Scooby-Doo cartoons.

What better way, then, for an HR blog to honor the memory of Casey–to give him our own “long-distance dedication,” if you will–than to publish our list of the top ways to maintain a work environment free of employment lawsuits? Here, then, in tribute to the great Kemal Amin “Casey” Kasem (1932-2014), is our countdown of the Top 5 ways for an employer to avoid being sued by its employees.

5.  Properly train your managers. No matter how smart you are, all those seminars you attended, webinars you sort of paid attention to, and articles you read, or at least glanced at, will do your company no good when one of your managers fires an employee with a disability because she’s not quite ready to return to work after her 12-week Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)  leave runs out.   Or worse. The time you or your employment lawyer spend training your managers now will be time you don’t spend later sitting in on their depositions, after the company gets sued.

4.  Update those policies. Is your company using an employee handbook that was last reviewed by your employment lawyer in 2006, or worse yet, that isn’t customized for the specific states in which you have employees? That’s not good. If you work in HR, you know that employment law is constantly changing, and you also know that much of it is state-specific. Your 2011 handbook’s social media policy might violate the most recent pronouncements by the National Labor Relations Board, and your one-size-fits-all handbook probably doesn’t address that one quirky statute in that one quirky state where you just opened a (quirky) new facility. It’s time for your employment counsel to review and revise that handbook.

3.  Reasonably accommodate, and engage in the interactive process. Got an employee who suffers from a disability and needs help in order to do his job? Got an employee who wants time off during the workday for her prayer breaks? The law likely requires you to provide a reasonable accommodation to the first employee’s disability and the second employee’s religion, unless doing so would create an undue hardship. The law also likely requires you to engage in the “interactive process,” to work with those employees to try to figure out a practical solution you can both live with.  Mess it up, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will be spending so much time at your work site that they’ll be playing shortstop on your company softball team.

2.  Know the four R’s of a harassment complaint. What are the four R’s of a harassment complaint, you may well ask? First, recognize whether that employee’s complaint is, indeed, the sort of harassment complaint that has potential legal implications. If it is, then second: respond appropriately by promptly investigating the complaint. Third, once you have investigated, then if warranted, take prompt remedial action. The fourth R stands for retaliation, as in, don’t allow anyone to retaliate against the employee who made the complaint.   Once you do all these things, you can add a fifth R: rest.

1.  Wage and hour claims are your newest nightmare. All those attorneys who wanted to sue your company for sexual harassment in the past now would like to sue you for wage and hour violations. Not only that, but state and federal agencies have basically declared war on employers in this area of law. Those lawyers and agencies may have a different view than you do as to whether a particular worker is an employee or a contractor, is exempt or nonexempt, or is entitled to be paid for that time they spent donning and doffing their special work gear. In the world of employment litigation, these issues are now “number one, with a bullet.” Have your employment lawyer review your wage and hour practices before you end up on the wrong side of that complaint.

We could go on and on, of course, but it looks like we’ve run out of time. So until next week, to borrow Casey Kasem’s classic sign-off, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” Good-bye, Casey, and thanks for the memories!

Clip[pers] his tongue!

April 28, 2014 - by: Josh Sudbury 0 COMMENTS
Josh Sudbury

This past week the biggest story in the NBA was not the excitement of the first round of the playoffs, but the comments L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling allegedly made to his girlfriend. In an audiotape released Friday by TMZ, a man (allegedly Sterling) is heard chastising his girlfriend for associating with black people and bringing them to his team’s games.  ThatsRacist Several authors and bloggers have already written about the deplorable worldview espoused by the man in the tape alleged to be Sterling so I won’t rehash the obvious. Indeed, the audio reveals personal views one might expect to be held by resisters of the civil rights movement, but not by that of the owner of an NBA franchise 50 years after the passage of Title VII. But a different lesson about our times can be learned from the incident, which concerns the prevalence of audio and video records in today’s world. In our technology-laden society, every smart phone doubles as a camera, tape recorder, video camera, word processor, etc. You name it, and your phone—and your employees’ phones—can probably do it, including secretly recording conversations between themselves and supervisors. On top of that, it takes almost zero technical savvy for someone to make a recording and post it to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, or any number of social media sites instantaneously. The majority of states permit the secret recording of conversations so long as at least one party to the conversation consents to the recording. In those states, such an audio recording could wind up as evidence against the company in court or before a government agency. In the Clippers’ case, it’s the owner himself who is alleged to have made the statements. So, it’s obvious that his statements reflect directly on the organization. But would the result be any better if one of your mid-level supervisors was caught on tape making an off-color joke or sexually charged comment about another employee? The answer is simply no. In addition to the potential liability that may arise from such statements in a discrimination or harassment lawsuit, the company almost certainly would lose the verdict in the court of public opinion. All hope is not lost, however. Employers can minimize the potential for such occurrences by committing to provide anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training for their managers on at least an annual basis. You should also remain in contact with your workforce and get to know your managers. Many times, when a manager is caught on tape making these kinds of statements, it isn’t the first time. Being present in the workplace will help you identify potential bad apples as well as remind your employees to be on guard because their words and actions are being noticed. Finally, employers can adopt and enforce policies prohibiting employees from making secret records in the workplace. Such policies help foster open communications in the workplace and protect confidential or trade secret information. Employers, however, would be wise to consult with outside counsel before implementing or enforcing such a policy to ensure it doesn’t encroach on employee rights. In the hopefully unlikely event you have an employee who sympathizes with Mr. Sterling’s alleged views, nothing short of a muzzle may be appropriate.

If Bill Cosby is wearing a garish sweater, this must be 1980s TV!

March 27, 2014 - by: Andy Tanick 0 COMMENTS
Andy Tanick

A few weeks ago, I saw a news story about how the last of the baby boomers are turning 50 in 2014. “Wow, that’s old,” I thought, until I realized that I’m 53. Then, as if I needed any further reminders of my elder statesmanship, one of the legal assistants in our office, a 20-something, accused me of “making up” the fact that there used to be a popular singer named Bing. Sigh. (And for the record, he was popular way before my time.)  CosbySweater

That’s it, I decided. Time for a blog post about popular culture from an era that none of those rascally whippersnappers will even remember: the 1980s.  That’ll teach ‘em not to be so darn … er, young. So charge up your brick-sized cellular phone, press “play” and “record” simultaneously on your 150-pound manually-operated VCR, and run your comb through that mullet: We’re going to take a spin through “Employment Law in1980s TV-Land.”

Of course, when you talk about HR nightmares from 1980s TV, the first thing that probably comes to your mind is the bar where everybody knows your name: Cheers. Who can forget owner Sam Malone’s puckish flirtations with Diane, Rebecca, and virtually every young woman who wandered into his bar wearing a short skirt and a jacket with three-inch shoulder pads? Those not-too-subtle propositions may have been cute in the ’80s, but they would translate into about 487 sexual harassment claims in this century, thank you very much. Not to mention the claims Cliff Clavin could bring against the bar for all the abuse waitress Carla Tortelli heaped on him. Once Sam was aware of Carla’s propensity to torment patrons, Cliff could have sued the bar for negligent retention. Sure, we all dabbed our eyes and stifled a whimper when Sam turned out the lights one last time in the show’s famous final scene, but if he operated his business like this nowadays, closing time would have come several years earlier, just as a result of all the legal fees.

Speaking of legal fees, what better place in TV Land to spend them than the firm of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak, the swanky setting of that 1980s fixture “LA Law.” Although (or maybe because) it was set in a law firm, the show featured bad employment practices galore. Bon vivant divorce lawyer Arnie Becker was the west coast version of Sam Malone, with better suits, romancing young law clerks and clients with alarming regularity. And that workplace affair between Stuart Markowitz and Anne Kelsey, although both were partners, was still fraught with potential HR landmines. But the HR nightmare that made “LA Law” famous had to do with workplace safety. Who could forget ill-fated attorney Rosalind Shays stepping through the elevator doors only to find, to her everlasting (but not for long) dismay, that there was no elevator there – just an empty shaft, and a long, long way down? Could Rosalind’s grieving heirs have sued the law firm for her untimely demise? Probably not. In most states, the sole remedy for a workplace accident is through workers’ compensation.  But you can bet the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would have been out the next day to determine whether McKenzie Brackman should be fined for maintaining an unsafe workplace.

Finally, another popular, albeit much-maligned, hit show from the 1980s was “thirtysomething,” with an ensemble cast full of attractive but angst-ridden yuppies trying to figure out the meaning of life while coping with bratty kids, cancer, interfaith marriage, and of course (25-year-old spoiler alert), occasionally getting killed in car accidents. But let’s not forget that much of the (melo)drama in this show derived from the issues that business partners Michael Steadman and Elliot Weston faced when they worked at DAA, an ad agency run by the evil Miles Drentell, one of the greatest TV villains of all time. At one point, fed up with Miles’ unscrupulous and unethical tactics, our heroes clandestinely tried to help a competing agency, “Minnesota Brands,” conduct a hostile takeover of DAA. Apparently, Michael and Elliot were not aware that under common law principles, employees have a duty of loyalty to their employer. I think secretly orchestrating the downfall of your own company would probably qualify as disloyal, don’t you?

Interestingly enough, all of these issues – sexual harassment, workplace safety, and employee loyalty – have not gone anywhere since the days when we were listening to “Men at Work” sing about vegemite sandwiches on our Walkman. But we’re sure that your company’s employment practices have changed for the better over the intervening quarter-century. Now if only you could find a use for those leg warmers and parachute pants that are still tucked away in a corner of your closet.

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