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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Where’s the Beef?

October 10, 2008 - by: Troy Foster 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Surprisingly, maybe $0

Maybe this is just a reflection on me and my days as an HR Director, but I didn’t see much that would really nail Dunder Mifflin this week. Sure, Meredith has been having an affair with a vendor to get discounts for the company. But it didn’t come out that management suggested, encouraged, or even knew about it. When they found out, Holly pressed on and investigated and found that Meredith really enjoys her steak. Now, Dunder Mifflin should have probably counseled Meredith against it, and maybe changed vendors; but termination would have been risky. So, good job. What am I saying?

When faced with the possibility of terminating Meredith, Michael’s initial reaction was “hell no, she’s family.” However, it seems that he came to the realization that he works in an office — and he’s going to have to make tough decisions about people that he’s developed close, personal relationships with at work. (OK, I sure hope that Michael stops coming to realizations and learning! Ugh!)

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Palin and the Commish

September 12, 2008 - by: Troy Foster 4 COMMENTS

It’s hard to escape all of the political news right now. If you keep an eye out, you can take something away from all the talking heads that you can use at work.

Take some of the stories about vice presidential candidate, Governor Sarah Palin. The one that grabbed headlines recently was the story that Palin told the Alaska Public Safety Commissioner to fire Palin’s brother-in-law. She wanted him canned, the story goes, because Palin heard her sister arguing with him, and may have heard that he wanted to harm Palin’s dad. The Commissioner declined to fire the brother-in-law, so Palin got rid of the Commissioner. Palin denies firing the Commish for this, or that he was ever pressured to fire her brother-in-law, but the matter is currently under investigation.

What can we take from this? Well, how about perception is everything. Think of The Office “Did I Stutter” episode in which Michael tried to fire Stanley. Not only did Michael make his usual inappropriate racial comments (calling Stanley a beautiful, sassy, powerful black man, for instance), but he created such a scene that Kevin was calling it the clash of the titans. Not ideal. And not so different from the Sarah Palin brother-in-law issue.

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Did I Stutter?

May 02, 2008 - by: Julie Elgar 10 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE: $450,000 (if
Stanley ever quits or is fired)
It is with great sadness that I announce that I am leaving “That’s What She Said.” I have taken a new job and am leaving the private practice of law. But don’t despair. Our beloved blog will continue. I have passed the torch to my colleague Troy Foster, who is not only one of the funniest people I know but who is also a huge fan of the show.

At least the writers made my last post an easy one: tonight’s episode was full of Dunder Mifflin management missteps. Had Stanley really been fired (or if he had just quit in disgust after the “faux firing”), he would have found it substantially easier to make those alimony payments to the former Mrs. Stanley Hudson (not to mention his future ex-wives). His claims for race discrimination, age discrimination, wrongful termination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress would have been pretty solid. You just don’t get to “faux fire” the only over-40 black employee after asking him for suggestions on how to “pep up” and “energize” the workplace by recording an “urban” message in a staff meeting. Plus, juries are rarely impressed by managers who publicly humiliate their employees. That being said, Michael’s blunders don’t excuse Stanley’s conduct. As much as we all have wanted to blow up at our boss during some point in our careers, the cold hard truth is that you just don’t get to do so without adverse consequences.

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The Job – Somewhat Revisited

September 21, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

Almost time for the season opener! Be sure to tune in next week for my recap of what promises to be a hilarious show. As for today, business calls and I’m in New Orleans with a malfunctioning computer. I’m re-posting my earlier post from the season finale. More to follow just as soon as my technology is up and running!

LITIGATION VALUE: $50,000 (with the potential for a whole lot more)

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The Negotiation Revisited

August 17, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $350,000

Employers who fail to fire employees who tape pepper spray canisters, nunchucks, and throwing stars to the bottom of their desks are playing with fire. Expensive fire. Sure, Roy started it, and I’m glad Dunder Mifflin fired him. But what about Dwight? After all, the man kept weapons at work for God knows how long. And if Roy can prove that Dunder Mifflin knew about them and failed to take action, then he just might have a claim for damages (e.g., eye doctor appointments, pain and suffering, etc.). Maybe Toby should go ahead and start to prepare for this deposition, too, while he is at it.

To make matters worse, Dwight admits having the weapons during Toby’s investigation into the incident. The time has come for Dunder Mifflin to part ways with Dwight. And unlike they did with Roy, the bosses should spring for the fifteen bucks and just FedEx Dwight’s last check to him.

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Cocktails Revisited

August 10, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $75,000 (I’m sticking with my earlier assessment)

A number of people have asked me whether Jan could really be fired for dating Michael. My answer? Probably. Well, at least in most states. Employers can, and often do, implement policies prohibiting their employees from engaging in romantic relationships with co-workers and, certainly, with subordinates. And Courts typically uphold those policies. Or at least they used to. In February, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down a company’s policy prohibiting any fraternization, dating or becoming “overly friendly” with co-workers on the theory that the policy could be interpreted by employees as prohibiting employees from discussing the terms and conditions of their employment, which violates the National Labor Relations Act.

A policy prohibiting any employees from being “overly friendly” with one another — can you imagine what would happen if Dunder Mifflin enforced such a policy? My guess is that Stanley would be the only employee left in Scranton.

Product Recall

April 27, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 1 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE: $45,000

Creed’s actions in setting up Debbie Brown to be fired for his mistake were not, in and of themselves, illegal. And, if Dunder Mifflin acted in good faith when it fired Debbie, then it probably didn’t do anything illegal either. At least not on the facts in this episode.

Employees can be fired for good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all. Employers can even be mistaken about the facts that led them to fire someone, so long as they believed them to be true at the time. The reason for firing someone just can’t be an illegal (i.e., discriminatory) reason. While that is the legal rule, I wouldn’t recommend that managers go around firing people without a good reason. In today’s litigious climate, sometimes perfectly legal (albeit unfair) actions can, and often do, cost a whole bunch of money. After all, companies don’t sit on juries. Employees do. Plus, as we saw, the company could end up with disgruntled employees who leave them with a warehouse full of paper containing obscene watermarks involving cartoon characters engaged in unspeakable acts.

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Categories: Creed Bratton / Firing

The Negotiation

April 06, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 3 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $350,000

Phew – finally a new episode! While any episode of The Office is a good one, it’s nice to have new material to discuss. As always, the gang at Dunder Mifflin did not disappoint with this week’s super-sized episode.

Employers who fail to fire employees who tape pepper spray canisters, nunchucks, and throwing stars to the bottom of their desks are playing with fire. Expensive fire. Sure, Roy started it, and I’m glad Dunder Mifflin fired him. But what about Dwight? After all, the man kept weapons at work for God knows how long. And if Roy can prove that Dunder Mifflin knew about them and failed to take action, then he just might have a claim for damages (e.g., eye doctor appointments, pain and suffering, etc.). Maybe Toby should go ahead and start to prepare for this deposition too while he is at it.

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Categories: Dwight Schrute / Firing

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