Kidding Around on the Job

July 30, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 1 COMMENTS

As summer rolls on and TV reruns continue, I did like Michael Scott would do during an average workday: I turned my attention to surfing the Internet. I came across an article on the Wall Street Journal’s site entitled “Did You Hear the One About the Recession?” by Kayleen Schaefer. The article discusses how workplace humor can relieve stress and actually make employees more productive.

So does this mean Michael Scott, with his unabashed love for humor, is a better manager than we all give him credit for? Not so fast, says the article. The goal of office humor should be to unite people, not alienate and offend certain members of the workplace community.

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Oh Baby!

May 15, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 3 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $50,000 (per Buffalo branch employee); $200,000 for various hostile work environment claims.

“Company Picnic,” the season’s final episode, was a good one. Unfortunately, that also means that Dunder Mifflin is on the hook for several claims from some of its employees.

One might think that the wrongful conduct took place at the volleyball tournament. And while the conduct of many Dunder Mifflin-ers –- especially management –- was out of line at the volleyball tournament, there wasn’t anything actionable that occurred there (assuming Phyllis and Pam weren’t actually injured).  The hostility, the near injuries, and the plain old dirtiness of Charles Minor and David Wallace sending Pam to the hospital just to get her out of the game . . . it was all not very nice, but none of it was enough to hold the company liable in court.

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Back to Business

April 30, 2009 - by: Dominic Verstegen 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $0

Since Troy is away on business, I’m guest-blogging again. And what a week to do so –- there’s a lot to talk about from the “Casual Friday” episode.

Although many HR folks can appreciate HR director Toby Flenderson’s dilemma dealing with employees taking casual Friday too far, there wasn’t a lot in terms of litigation value with everything that was happening. Arguably, Meredith Palmer flashing everyone for what seemed like an eternity could lead to a hostile work environment claim. But Toby did step in and rectify the situation pretty quickly, which would help prevent a claim. He also dealt with Angela Martin’s complaint about Oscar Martinez pretty well –- if you don’t like Oscar’s sandals, don’t look at his feet.

Actually, Angela’s comment about Oscar looking like he just got off the boat could have been a pretty good start to a hostile work environment claim, but she didn’t say that in front of Oscar, so even that wouldn’t end up costing Dunder Mifflin anything.

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Quitting Time

March 20, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $60,000

Michael, Michael, Michael. What went wrong? What happened to turn you into this new, bitter man? And why couldn’t you have quit before you cost the company thousands more in potential judgments?

Before we get to Michael’s actionable conduct, let’s first touch on the new guy, Charles Minor. Fortunately, it is almost impossible for a manager to file a claim for sexual harassment, because the new Dunder Mifflin vice president was the target of some pretty disturbing (read: awesome) and unwanted flirtation. Kelly made no bones about her quest to get the “black George Clooney” to buy her a prime rib; and Angela wasn’t much better, stealing Charles’ scarf and being overly creepy and affectionate toward him. Even though Charles may not have a claim against the company, though, others might. The risk in this situation is that Kelly’s and Angela’s shenanigans could lead to an unintended victim claiming to be offended by their actions.

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Reductions In Farce

February 19, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 1 COMMENTS

Employment law attorney Troy Foster examines “The Baby Shower”  episode of The Office and determines that while Dunder Mifflin might not be liable for sex discrimination, it probably needs to take  a look at the Scranton crew’s work habits.

Litigation Value: Still currently $0.

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Do You Need to Pump?

February 06, 2009 - by: Dominic Verstegen 0 COMMENTS

Employment law attorney Dominic Verstegen discusses Dunder Mifflin’s liability for Michael Scott’s actions in the “Lecture Circuit” episode of “The Offfice” should Karen decide to sue for pregnancy discrimination.

Litigation Value: $200,000

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A Comeback Story

February 02, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 3 COMMENTS

Employment law attorney Troy Foster examines the “Stress Relief” episode of The Office, which aired after the Super Bowl. He finds that Dundler Mifflin could be liable to Stanley for the stress Michael and Dwight cause him, to Meredith for Michael’s boorish jokes, and to Oscar for Michael’s weekly homophobic and racist comments

Litigation Value: $615,000 Total

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And the Winner Is …

January 09, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $0.
The last time The Surplus episode of The Office aired, we talked about Dunder Mifflin’s good behavior (relatively speaking). In the spirit of award season –- specifically the Golden Globes, which are on this Sunday –- let’s give some awards to folks for their exemplary behavior during the episode.

Best Actor – Oscar, for compromising on his demand for a new copier for the larger goal of office harmony. And it doesn’t hurt that he was the only employee dressed like someone from Hollywood. Was that a lavender shirt and a khaki suit coat?

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We’ve Come a Long Way (Except for Michael and Dwight)

November 07, 2008 - by: Dominic Verstegen 3 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $50,000.

In this week’s episode of The Office, Michael Scott is on camera calling Kelly Kapoor dusky and exotic, and then Dwight Schrute, the assistant to the regional manager, refers to her southern India birth before he threatens her. A jury somewhere will find against Dunder Mifflin for race discrimination. Of course, that jury would have to ignore Kelly sabotaging Dwight’s and Jim’s bonuses and then claiming she was raped when she was caught in her misconduct. (“You cannot just say that you’ve been raped and expect all your problems to go away. Not again, don’t keep doing that.”) But still, some people will sympathize with Kelly.

It’s fitting that the Dunder Mifflin gang brought race discrimination to our attention this week, after the historic election of Barack Obama. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial segregation in schools, public places, and employment, is not even 50 years old, and now we have a black President. (The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also outlawed discrimination based on religion, gender, and national origin — interestingly, gender was added at the last minute by a Virginia congressman who thought its inclusion would kill the bill.) This piece of legislation drastically changed the face of employment law. It allowed the Kelly Kapoors of the world to file lawsuits when the Michael Scotts of the world called them dusky.

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Baby in the Office: A Slippery Situation

October 17, 2008 - by: Kylie Crawford 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Currently, $0

My stomach still hurts from laughing. This week on The Office, Michael Scott prepared for the birth of his make-believe baby by having Dwight Schrute, pant-less and on Michael’s desk, give birth to a buttered-up watermelon, all the while screaming about secretly marking the baby so no one could steal it.  Michael then ate his buttered watermelon baby.

Oddly enough, this offensive (read: incredibly funny) scenario is not the “pregnancy problem” in this episode. Michael did not discriminate against anyone based on pregnancy and no one suffered any sort of adverse employment action. Michael appeared to be truly excited that Jan was pregnant (or so he thought). This doesn’t mean that this type of behavior should be condoned. A story of grown men running around the office screaming, “My cervix is ripening!” and pretending that their water has broken would look really bad in front of a jury should some sort of pregnancy or sex discrimination claim arise.  But Holly should be far more concerned about Stanley than Michael in this episode.

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