No Doom, No Gloom

November 04, 2011 - by: Jaclyn West 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Sabre had better continue socking money away for a settlement with several female employees for their sexual harassment claims against Gabe. First poor Erin, and now “Warehouse Val” has to put up with Gabe’s creepy courtship. Robert may want to ship Gabe back to Tampa before he does any real damage. And Andy’s dance moves aren’t helping matters.

Well, I’ll start with the cold open and just give myself a little pat on the back for predicting that Andy’s management style would be musical. Deciding that the office needed an end-of-the-day ritual, Andy instituted a new policy of singing “Closing Time” with his coworkers each day. Problem is, they don’t know the words, or just don’t care to sing along. Andy’s attempts to get people in the singing spirit with inappropriate dance moves . . . cringe-worthy, to say the least. Andy, I’ll be your lawyer here. If you’re going to try to turn your subordinates into a singing group, please don’t incorporate a towel into your dance routine. Thanks.

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Pushing the Limits of PDA

March 18, 2011 - by: Joshua Drexler 0 COMMENTS

When last night’s episode originally aired on February 10, 2011, I noted that the Scranton office more closely resembled a nightclub at the height of the sexual revolution than a reputable place of business — see my original commentary entitled “Let’s Get It On.” I discussed recent findings on the prevalence of workplace dating, as well as the inherent liability risks with office romances.

This time I’m going to focus more narrowly on the issue of PDA, or “Public Display of Affection,” as Michael and Holly’s exhibition is worthy of the record books. Their fondling, caressing, heavy breathing, etc., made everyone around them nauseatingly uncomfortable. Michael and Holly were so engrossed in each other that they were oblivious to their own PDA – an intervention was required just to bring it to their attention.

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Sticky Quips

February 03, 2011 - by: Brian Kurtz 4 COMMENTS

Litigation value: $8.99 + tip for Michael’s “free” lunch, although Michael’s tort action for false imprisonment against Mr. Chu and the Chinese restaurant will more than cover it.

From an employment liability perspective, it is probably a good thing for Dunder Mifflin/Sabre that Michael’s character is leaving the show soon. One suspects that his soon-to-be-rekindled relationship with coworker Holly will not end well. Which is too bad because we learned this week that Holly and Michael are quite literally of one mind. But this is The Office, and when the relationship goes down in flames (and it will), one of my colleagues will write about it on this page.

The main plot line in this week’s episode, “The Search,” is — wait for it — the search for Michael as he roams the streets of Scranton sans wallet and phone. But the real action for the employment lawyer is back in the office where Pam has done a drawing and is putting on a caption contest. Consider Gabe’s contest “ground rules”:

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Ain’t No Business Like Snow Business

December 10, 2010 - by: Chris Butler 2 COMMENTS

Blawg 100Litigation Value: Not much, yet; but, potentially millions if Dwight goes on a murderous rampage.

Is hurling snowballs really that big a deal?! Last week, it was the Cincinnati Bearcats mascot; this week, it’s Dwight Schrute and Jim Halpert — one gets arrested, the other two undergo corrective counseling.

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Who’s In Charge Around Here?

November 11, 2010 - by: Brian Kurtz 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value:  $0.00

Who’s the boss?

In the opening scene of the “Viewing Party,” the staff is crowded around a TV in the conference room watching local coverage of the Scranton Strangler. Gabe walks in and directs everyone to return to work. They ignore him. Later, in the kitchen, Kevin refers to Gabe as Michael’s “boss” . . . in front of Michael. Employees scatter. At Gabe’s Glee viewing party, Michael and Gabe face off in the ultimate test of masculinity and dominion — control over the clicker.

It goes without saying that an organization cannot function properly without effective leadership. Legally, it’s a toxic situation. Frontline supervisors don’t get any training and don’t know how to deal with employee complaints of harassment or discrimination. Policies and procedures are ineffective, not followed, or simply nonexistent. There is no consistent treatment of employees. Supervisors retaliate against employees. It all invariably leads to costly and disruptive litigation.

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Brawl in the Family

September 23, 2010 - by: Chris Butler 5 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Not much; yet.

Kicking off Season 7, tonight’s premiere teaches us a valuable lesson — the perils of nepotism in the workplace. Nepotism in its simplest form is “favoritism” toward relatives, without regard to merit. Michael Scott’s misguided decision to employ his jackwagon of a nephew, Luke, as an office assistant illustrated nearly all that’s wrong with workplace nepotism. Michael completely ignored Luke’s utter disregard of the most basic of his responsibilities — from botched Starbucks and ice cream runs to blatant insubordination to hoarding important FedEx packages in the trunk of his clapped-out Honda Civic — until it quickly caused a mutiny among the Scranton staff. Only when confronted en masse did Michael attempt to discipline Luke; by spanking him!?!?

While not necessarily illegal, among the prime complaints that companies practicing nepotism typically face is the obvious lack of fairness toward those who are not related to the decisionmaker. Perceived favoritism of a relative often creates dissatisfaction and reduced morale among workers. And, employees who are awarded and promoted solely because of their familial relationships are more likely to be underqualified for the positions they are expected to fill, leading to an erosion of leadership skills and contributing to the demoralization of more deserving candidates. In sum, when workplace nepotism is present, employees often show less enthusiasm, have a lesser incentive to diligently or proficiently perform their jobs, become embittered and less productive, decide to work elsewhere, or, most importantly, become so disgruntled that they end up filing a lawsuit under an alleged discrimination or hostile work environment theory.

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Aged Like a Fine Wisconsin Parmesan

June 10, 2010 - by: Doug Hall 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: More fodder for a potential lawsuit by Oscar Martinez; at least $10,000-15,000 to help Dunder Mifflin muddle through the competing Darryl-Dwight complaints — and the only reason it is that low is that, at the end of the day, neither is likely to want to escalate their dispute further.

Tonight we were treated to a repeat — or should I say “finely aged” — episode, “The Meeting.” The main story line — in which Michael Scott tries to undercut Jim Halpert’s efforts to get promoted to management, only to learn that Michael would have been promoted as well — doesn’t really involve potential employment law liability to the company. There is plenty to talk about, however, in the “B” plot and the cold open.

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Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Litigation Value:  training management on whistleblower protections — $10,000; settling customer claims due to the flaming printers — more than Sabre would like to think about; finding out Holly’s coming back — priceless.

The printers aren’t the only things heating up at Sabre. Jo’s mission to root out the whistleblower had more than one person sweating in Scranton. Tensions were high given Pam’s admission to a reporter’s wife, Darryl’s misguided attempts to pick up a not-so-cute copy editor, Kelly’s infamous tweet, and Andy’s video. Unfortunately for Sabre, a variety of laws protect employees who choose to “blow the whistle” on employer wrongdoing.

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Dude, Here Comes the Torch!

June 04, 2008 - by: Troy Foster 3 COMMENTS

My love of “The Office” causes me to lament these weeks where we don’t get a new episode (or even repeat) to enjoy.  But while I certainly miss my weekly dose of Michael and gang, I need not look further than our very own United States Supreme Court to provide us with more scintillating material for HR nuggets of wisdom.

Take, for instance, the Supreme Court’s  “BONG HITS 4 JESUS” case – decided last term.  Don’t know why this one caught my attention.  I am still trying to figure out what “BONG HITS 4 JESUS” even means.  Part of me wishes that it was a local church’s way of trying to attract some more youthful congregants.  But anyway, the Court said that it was okay for the principal to suspend a student for unfurling a fifteen-foot banner with the words “BONG HITS 4 JESUS” right in front of television cameras as the Olympic torch passed by the high school on its way to
Salt Lake City in 2002.

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Categories: Discipline

“The Coup” Revisited

June 01, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $65,000 (but could have been much more)

Having Dwight stand on his desk with the word “liar” hanging from his neck is not what I would consider the most effective method of employee discipline. Nor was tricking him into believing that he got Michael fired. But, without more, Michael’s actions may not be considered to be “utterly intolerable to a civilized community” and, thus, are not actionable in a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

What could be more extreme you ask? Well, after digging around I found some examples. In one case, an Alabama manager allegedly required his employee to keep seeing a management consultant for “training” after learning that the consultant would hypnotize the employee and then ask her to remove her shirt and answer questions of a sexual nature. In another case, a Washington dentist tormented an employee, who routinely regaled the office with stories of her pet pot bellied pig named Walter, by implanting tusks as a temporary dental apparatus while the employee was under anesthesia and then gathering the other employees around to take pictures. The employee didn’t think it was nearly as funny and sued him. In retrospect, maybe Michael’s conduct wasn’t so bad after all….

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