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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Impractical Jokes

May 21, 2009 - by: Dominic Verstegen 0 COMMENTS

Time magazine is running a feature about The Office and NBC’s invitation for viewers to send in photos of hijinks in their own workspaces, like those often featured on the show. Some of the pranks featured on the show have been hilarious. From simple things like Jim enveloping Dwight’s stapler in Jello, to more complicated things like Jim putting coins in Dwight’s phone handset and then taking them out causing Dwight to hit himself in the head, you have to appreciate their creativity.

Some of the pranks featured in the Time magazine piece are equally creative. One picture showed an office filled with 1,700 balloons. Another picture showed a cubicle literally gift-wrapped from top to bottom. These pranks are awesome, to be sure. But they are also completely unproductive and not advisable from a legal standpoint.

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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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So You Think You Can Dance?

May 08, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 3 COMMENTS

Litigation Value:  $250,000

The “Café Disco” episode of The Office might as well have been called “The Hostile Work Environment.” Or “The No Work Environment.” Dunder Mifflin Scranton turned into a coffee house dance bar at the expense of any corporate productivity.

A hostile work environment exists when an employee experiences workplace harassment and fears going to work because of the offensive, intimidating, or oppressive atmosphere. An isolated comment is generally not enough to create a hostile work environment. That’s why it’s tough to assign an accurate value to a half hour episode of The Office sometimes. Not this week.

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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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Take One for the Team

April 09, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $60,000

There was just too much going on last night on The Office. Two Episodes, multiple story lines, and several unlawful actions that could lead to big money damages against Dunder Mifflin -– and the new Michael Scott Paper Company.

On the “Dream Team” episode, Michael and Pam set out to start the new company.  Unfortunately for Michael, the company got off on the wrong foot when his own Nana refused to invest in the company, and when he gave Pam all she needed to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against the new firm. It was one thing for Michael to wear his bathrobe to greet Pam for her first day at the company; but when he flashed her a few minutes later, he created a hostile work environment. Pretty good first hour for the company. Let’s call that $50,000, just because Michael hasn’t had a chance to drive the verdict any higher yet.

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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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Misery Loves Company; Plaintiffs Love Dunder Mifflin

March 06, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 2 COMMENTS

Litigation value: $ 100,000


On the Blood Drive episode of The Office, Michael took things to the next level, or at least got creative in finding new ways to do something actionable, by stopping work and throwing a Valentine’s Day mixer. Sure, in the past Michael has said crude things, turned a blind eye to inappropriate behavior, and engaged in dangerous office relationships, but I don’t think he’s ever gone out of his way to get others involved like he did this week.

Even though no one actually complained during the episode, there could have been many unintended victims of Michael’s forced mixing. Anyone at the office that day had a viable claim against the company, even if they weren’t specifically forced to mingle. We’ll call it $100,000 for now.

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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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Hot or Not?

January 23, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 5 COMMENTS

Litigation value: $0

In the Prince Family Paper episode of The Office, the employees of Dunder Mifflin Scranton act inappropriately and potentially create liability for the company on two different fronts. But fortunately, as seems to be the case quite often this season, no one does anything to definitely create liability for the company. That doesn’t mean we approve of their conduct, though, as literally everyone in the office was in on the shenanigans.

First, let’s deal with Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute. Like in the 8th grade, Michael and Dwight’s spy mission to Prince Family Paper was inappropriate, awkward, and just felt wrong. However, as legitimate competitors, Dunder Mifflin is entitled to compete with Prince Family Paper, even if they’re slimy about it. And the customer list Michael and Dwight got from Mr. Prince could have been a trade secret –- if he hadn’t just given it to Michael so freely. So, at the end of the day, Michael’s and Dwight’s behavior might not have been ethical, but it was probably legal.

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