Been There, Done That!

May 29, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 0 COMMENTS

Employment law attorney Troy Foster reflects on the “Stress Relief” episode of The Office and reminds employers that while reruns may work in prime time, letting workplace problems reoccur is dangerous.

Litigation Value: $615,000 and rising . . .

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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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Kevin’s Loan

December 23, 2008 - by: Dominic Verstegen 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $0

It’s week 2 of our review of The Office webisodes. This time, we watched “Kevin’s Loan.” In this particularly hilarious webisode, it is revealed that Kevin has a gambling debt. He devises a scheme to pay off his debt by getting a loan to open up a mobile ice cream business. Unfortunately, there are some problems with his plan, although not with the name of one of his flavors — Fudge the Magic Dragon. Kevin enlists the help of Darryl from the warehouse, and hilarity ensues.

From a liability perspective, the main problem I see is that Kevin walks the line of committing fraud. Of course, since Dunder Mifflin isn’t in on the act with him, the company is in pretty good shape. One issue that is worth examining is: What should Oscar and Darryl have done when they became aware of what Kevin was doing on company time?

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Office Romance Leads to Robbery

October 24, 2008 - by: Troy Foster 4 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $0.

Shockingly, I don’t think Dunder Mifflin can be held liable for any conduct in the “Crime Aid” episode of The Office. That doesn’t mean I think it’s advisable for Michael Scott and Holly to be messing around at work, for Phyllis to auction off sexual favors (“hugs”), or for Dwight to point to his crotch and tell Phyllis that Angela would be “saying goodbye to this.” But it does mean that I don’t think the company can be held liable for any illegal conduct. Yet.

As refreshing as it is to see the HR department represented more positively by Holly than it was by Toby, you have to worry for Dunder Mifflin when Holly does things like sleep with Michael — on the third date,  no less. And forgetting to lock up the place after an at-work make-out session, leading to a robbery.

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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

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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