The Dinner Party

April 11, 2008 - by: Julie Elgar 2 COMMENTS

LITIGATION COST: Paying lawyer to review corporate ethics policy: $1,500; paying Michael severance: $5,000; avoiding corporate scandal: priceless.

Does any company really want its regional manager to hit up subordinates for money? Does it matter that he did it in his condo rather than his office? The answer to both of these questions is, quite simply, no. While Michael’s conduct may not technically violate the law, it surely violates Dunder Mifflin’s code of ethics. That is, if they have one.

An effective workplace ethics policy deters employee misconduct, avoids conflicts of interest, and provides guidelines for resolving sensitive issues. Tricking your subordinates into coming to your house for dinner to “work” on them for an “investment opportunity” in your girlfriend’s candle company just doesn’t cut it. And, in case you were wondering, making employees believe that they will be forced to work overtime on a fake project isn’t going to pass muster either. Unfortunately for Dunder Mifflin, a culture that gives only lip service to corporate ethics is not enough. Management must also “walk the walk.” Clearly, Dunder Mifflin (or at least the Scranton branch) hasn’t quite grasped that yet.

Categories: Policies

More On Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

March 13, 2008 - by: Julie Elgar 2 COMMENTS

In the truth is stranger than fiction category, I recently re-discovered a case in which a Hooter’s waitress in Florida sued her employer for tricking her about a prize in a beer-selling contest.  The waitress thought she would win a Toyota if she sold the most beer.  However, after she won the contest, her manager blind-folded her; led her to the parking lot; and presented her with a plastic “toy Yoda” character from Star Wars.  The manager claimed the prank was an April Fool’s joke.  Funny, right?  Apparently, the employee didn’t think so– she sued her employer, a Hooter’s franchisee, for breach of contract and fraudulent misrepresentation.

We all know that subjecting employees to ridicule and disappointment is not a great motivational technique.  But, as the employer learned in this case, conducting business this way can also lead to protracted, and ultimately, expensive litigation.  While cases usually aren’t this egregious, the lesson is the same:  “I was only kidding” is never going to be your strongest defense.

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Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

February 28, 2008 - by: Julie Elgar 6 COMMENTS

Here is an interesting one. Earlier this week, the mayor of a small town in Oregon was fired after the town learned that there were pictures on the Internet of their esteemed leader posing in front of a fire truck in a black lace bra and panty set. The photographs were taken before she was elected and were posted on MySpace by a family member who wanted to help improve the mayor’s social life. But the mayor left the photographs up after she was elected, and her opponents found this to be inappropriate. So she lost her job.

The ouster raises an interesting point: Can/should an employer check out employees or prospective employees on the Internet? After all, there is wealth of information on the world wide web. On the other hand, there is a lot of information the employer just doesn’t want to know. After all, just what should human resources do after discovering photographs of a job candidate doing keg stands on the employee’s MySpace page? Does it bring forth any issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act? What if a current employee’s page shows her doing bong hits or the page contains racially or sexually offensive content?

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A Light At The End Of The Tunnel

February 15, 2008 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

Finally, the strike is officially over. And, according to the New York Times, new episodes of “The Office” will start airing on April 10, 2008. Thank God! In the meantime, there are plenty of real life cases with facts so bizarre that they rival the plots dreamed up by Hollywood writers. To get us started, check out my friend John Phillips’ recent blog entry on the Philadelphia anchorwoman who appeared on Dr. Phil; e-mailed photographs of herself in a bikini to a colleague; and allegedly slugged a cop.

Here’s a shocker: the network terminated her contract. Presumably, she had a “morals clause” in her employment agreement. A “morals clause” is standard in celebrity contracts (or so I’m told in the attached article). Essentially, these clauses provide that an employee can be terminated for engaging in behavior that will cause scandal, public contempt, or disrepute. One can only imagine what type of trouble Michael would get into if he had a contract with a “morals clause.” Certainly food for thought….

Categories: Policies / Real-Life Cases

The Deposition

November 16, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE: $200,000 (including Dunder Mifflin’s attorneys fees and deposition costs)

Well, it finally happened. An employee has sued Dunder Mifflin for wrongful termination. I’m not usually one to say “I told you so” but, somehow, I just can’t stop myself this morning.

While it is probably not illegal to fire someone for getting a boob job, it is certainly illegal to fire someone based on gender stereotypes or characteristics. Unfortunately for Dunder Mifflin, it seems like this may be where Jan is headed. And that just can’t be welcome news for David Wallace and the gang.

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Local Ad

October 26, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $1,500.00 (or a few hours of their attorney’s time to prepare an internet usage policy)

It’s nice to be back! Thanks again to my guest blogger, Troy Foster, for pitching in while I had to work.

Did anyone else notice how many Dunder Mifflin employees were using their computers for anything but work? Creed was playing computer solitaire; Jim and Dwight were playing Internet reality games; and I’m sure that others were surfing all kinds of marginally inappropriate (and certainly not business-related) websites. In addition to the productivity lost to online bill paying, sports web sites and the Wall Street Journal online, unmonitored internet activity could expose Dunder Mifflin to a cornucopia of legal problems. For example, harassment claims brought after employees download crude jokes and forward them to co-workers; download porn; or use offensive images as screensavers. Unmonitored and unrestricted internet usage could also result in the disclosure of sensitive information. And now, as they roll out the new “Dunder Mifflin Infinity” technology, would be the perfect time to take preventative action.

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Categories: HR / Policies

Moonlighting: Who’s Left to Push the Paper?

October 19, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

Loss in productivity: $70,000 – $100,000/year Discount off of Dietco Supplement: $20/month

Two-night stay at Schrute Farms: Priceless

Once again, Julie is working extra hard this week for one of our clients and has asked me to fill in for her here on the blog. I’m Troy Foster a fellow labor and employment attorney with Ford & Harrison and an avid fan of the show. This week’s episode was classic Dunder Mifflin, I hope you enjoy the post.

Schrute Farms? Dietco Co.? Scranton C2? Now, while our friends at Dunder Mifflin aren’t known for their hard work and dedication, virtually nothing is getting done in the office now. How can it? There’s too much other stuff to do. Our top performer, Dwight, is too busy taking reservations for the farm (today’s frightening and real version of the Bates Motel). After he fills up the guest book, Dwight is busy all weekend long – table building, farming, and even tucking Jim and Pam in with a quick read from Harry Potter – the fun never stops. After chasing Mose around all weekend, it’s no wonder that he is wiped out for work on Monday morning. Michael is also yawning after his long hours at Dietco Co. The miracle diet formula is no miracle for Michael (though it might have been for his employees if he saw a little of himself in his obnoxious boss, Nick). He is so tired that he’s even more distracted than normal, if that is possible. He is unable to even remember Ryan’s presentation – not to mention the company policy that prohibits him from having a second job. In addition to his own desire to do nothing at work, he is affecting others – begging Kevin for gambling tips, and asking Oscar for another cash advance and financial advice.

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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 Job

May 18, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 2 COMMENTS

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

So Creed has joined the millions of people blogging at (and about) work. I’d say that this could definitely cause trouble for Dunder Mifflin when Creed eventually learns how to post his musings on something more than a Microsoft Word document. Believe it or not, there are actual cases being brought by employees who have been dooced (fired) over the content of their blogs. Take, for example, the flight attendant who was fired for posting photographs of herself stretched out on a row of seats with her uniform hiked up and her bra showing. She sued the airline for sex discrimination. There is also a journalist who got dooced for posting a critical play-by-play about her company and its bad management practices. Dunder Mifflin should be very afraid of what the Scranton employees could post about their work place. Especially if Creed actually learns how to post his entries online or, god forbid, he learns how to post photographs.

As for Jan and her unfortunate demise, I think she may have a claim. Not a good one but a claim nonetheless. After all, she was fired and replaced by a younger male temp who has very little seniority and no management experience just a few days after she “enhanced” her more feminine qualities. Jan could also claim that Dunder Mifflin fired her because it “regarded her” as having a mental disability. After all, the CFO did tell her that she was “clearly unstable” when he terminated her. While Jan probably won’t be the next big winner in the litigation lotto, it will still cost some money to defend. But with any luck, Jan’s attorneys won’t be able to use anything from Creed’s blog as evidence in the lawsuit.

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