Words Matter (More than Lithium)

August 19, 2010 - by: Matt Rita 3 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: A plaintiff (and high school) class consisting of “Scott’s Tots,” each of whom could claim entitlement to four years of college tuition — less an offset for the value of a laptop battery. (Thanks, Mr. Scott.)

Greetings, faithful readers! You know the summer’s going fast and the nights are growing colder — at least in some parts of the continent — when this blog circles back on itself not once, but twice. While watching the most recent repeat of The Office, I seemed to recall writing about someone else within Ford & Harrison who had previously written about this episode. Or maybe I just read his or her prior post. Whatever the case, the fact that I can’t remember how many levels in we are (can you say “Inception”?) suggests that it’s high time for a new season!

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The Michael Scott School of Business

July 09, 2010 - by: Jaclyn West 5 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: An education on management from the master (of disaster) … priceless.

The Office didn’t air in my little corner of the world last night, and I’m currently battling symptoms of withdrawal. So I decided to take a little walk down memory lane and relive some of my favorite lessons from Season 6. Remember, back in Season 2, when Michael gave Ryan the benefit of his many years of management experience through a series of cliches? What lessons would Michael share with us from this season?

Gossip: Michael divulges Stanley’s secret — he’s having an affair! — to the entire office. Feeling guilty, Michael makes up false rumors about everyone in the office, telling the office that Kelly has an eating disorder, Andy is homosexual, and Pam is pregnant. Turns out, Pam really is pregnant. Lesson learned: Talk is cheap … for Michael, anyway. Maybe not so much for Dunder Mifflin.

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Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Litigation Value:  training management on whistleblower protections — $10,000; settling customer claims due to the flaming printers — more than Sabre would like to think about; finding out Holly’s coming back — priceless.

The printers aren’t the only things heating up at Sabre. Jo’s mission to root out the whistleblower had more than one person sweating in Scranton. Tensions were high given Pam’s admission to a reporter’s wife, Darryl’s misguided attempts to pick up a not-so-cute copy editor, Kelly’s infamous tweet, and Andy’s video. Unfortunately for Sabre, a variety of laws protect employees who choose to “blow the whistle” on employer wrongdoing.

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Diabolical Laughter

April 09, 2010 - by: Jaclyn West 3 COMMENTS

This week’s episode was another repeat, and it was just as cringe-worthy as the first time it aired. Doug Hall did a fabulous job covering this episode in first run, so I’ll just use this space to talk about an issue that has been ongoing since the very first episode of the series: the personality clash between Dwight Shrute and Jim Halpert.

In tonight’s show, Dwight, jealous of Jim’s promotion, continues to pursue his Diabolical Plan to get Jim fired (or at least demoted). Although the conflict has since resolved (to the extent the Dwight-Jim war can) by Jim’s returning to the sales staff, it’s still worth talking about. What could Jim, as a manager, do when he encounters an employee like Ryan, who is determined to undermine his authority? Or, worse, like Dwight, who is determined to have him fired?

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No Guinness for You!

March 12, 2010 - by: Jaclyn West 7 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Probably neglible, seeing as no one seemed to be offended by Michael’s Irish jokes, and Michael himself looked slightly flattered by the long hug with Todd “PacMan” Packer and Meredith.

Who knew that St. Patrick’s Day was such an important holiday at Dunder Mifflin? This week on The Office, we saw our favorite regional paper (and now printer) supplier’s office and employees decked out in their green colors. As Michael put it, “it’s the closest the Irish will ever get to Christmas.” (Points for cultural awareness, Michael, as always.) But the gang almost didn’t make it to the bar for their green beer-soaked celebration, because new boss Jo had them all working late by suggesting that Michael (and everyone else, by extension) should leave work only if he is completely satisfied with the work he has done for the day.  What’s a group of Irish-for-the-day salespeople and accountants to do?

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Meet the New Boss

February 04, 2010 - by: Brian Kurtz 3 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Approximately $5,000 – 10,000; Oscar’s Dunder Mifflin vacation time … and the replacement cost of Stanley’s busted windshield.

Employment law issues often get overlooked in a merger while the parties focus on stock price, transition planning, public relations, and other big-ticket concerns. When Gabe announced to the Scranton employees that Sabre offered two weeks of vacation, Oscar complained that he had six weeks banked from Dunder Mifflin. Is he entitled to either cash it out or carry it over to his Sabre employment? Probably.

While not entirely clear, it appears that Sabre purchased a controlling stake in Dunder Mifflin. In this type of stock purchase, the buyer “steps into the shoes” of the company being acquired. Of course, a new employer can make its own policy, but subject to state wage-hour laws. Most state laws prohibit an employer from taking away an employee’s earned or accrued vacation. Oscar’s complaint suggests that Dunder Mifflin permitted employees to carry over earned, unused vacation. So when Sabre stepped into Dunder Mifflin’s shoes, Oscar’s vacation bank should have carried over. Hey, Gabe. Let’s talk about a use-it-or-lose-it vacation policy.

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Classic Rewind

January 22, 2010 - by: Chris Butler 6 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: In the aggregate, $100 million; most of which is punitive damages

OK, so tonight’s episode – The Banker –- didn’t really bring us much new material, but it indeed highlighted five years of near-catastrophic employee-relations failures. As Dunder Mifflin verges on economic collapse, a potential investor dispatches its self-proclaimed “fact-checker” to conduct a due-diligence assessment of the company’s “H.R. liabilities.” While interviewing HR representative Toby Flenderson, the fact-checker poses a series of provocative questions that invoke Toby’s vivid recollection of why he so dearly hates his job. In essence, we rewind the tape a few years. Let’s take a look:

  • Racial/national origin harassment/discrimination: Michael Scott mocking Kelly Kapoor’s Indian heritage.
  • Inappropriate and/or sexually-suggestive language and innuendos: Michael’s skilled reliance on the phrase “that’s what she said” to transform seemingly innocuous comments into sexually charged double entendres; Michael’s lewd references to Stanley Hudson’s teenage daughter; Michael exposing himself to Pam; Meredith Palmer exposing herself to the entire office; and Michael kissing Phyllis Lapin to dissuade her from complaining to human resources about his sexually offensive language, and then immediately rewarding her graciousness with sexually offensive language.
  • Sexual harassment/sexual orientation harassment: Michael kissing the visibly-horrified Oscar  Martinez on the lips to illustrate his tolerance of same-sex relationships; again, Michael kissing Phyllis; and, yet again, Michael’s unbridled references to “that’s what she said.”
  • Age harassment/discrimination: Several mean-spirited references to Creed Bratton’s age and his “distinct old man smell.”
  • Workplace violence: Andy Bernard ramming his fist through the wall; Pam slapping Michael; Kelly slapping Michael; Jim Halpert slapping Dwight Schrute; Dwight punching Michael, and later pounding him in the face with a shoe; Phyllis hurling a wad of paper into Angela Martin’s face; and Oscar shoving Angela.
  • Potential workers’ compensation claims: Michael running down Meredith in the employee parking lot; Andy plunging from a transfer truck into an empty refrigerator box; and Michael ramming the warehouse forklift into a storage rack, causing a cascade of flying metal, boxes, and paper.
  • Health and safety violations: Dwight purposely igniting a trashcan paper fire to instigate an unscheduled fire “drill”; and, again, Michael ramming the warehouse forklift into the storage rack.
  • Property damage/waste of company resources: Michael and Dwight bouncing a watermelon from the office roof onto a parked car; several mutinous employees shoving paper, books, and supplies to the floor; an employee shattering a plate glass window with a toy-gun projectile; again, Michael overturning the storage rack; Jim disassembling Dwight’s desk and contents (classic) and enveloping them in holiday wrapping paper; and Jim encasing Dwight’s stapler in a Jell-O mold.
  • Invasion of privacy/HIPAA violations: Dwight demanding that each employee publicly identify his or her personal medical condition to determine its legitimacy.
  • Supervisor-subordinate romantic relationships/inappropriate public displays of affection: Dwight making out with Angela; Angela making out with Andy; Kelly making out with Ryan; Michael’s painfully inappropriate workplace relationship with his boss, Jan (and discussing his repeated vasectomies before the entire office); and Jim’s and Pam’s eternal office romance, despite Jim’s supervisory role (OK, we turn a blind eye to this because we really like them).
  • Hostile work environment/miscellaneous inappropriate and outrageous behavior: All of the above, and too many to mention.

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Belles, Bourbon, Bullets & Bankruptcy

November 13, 2009 - by: Jody Ward-Rannow 6 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $0. Shockingly no one did anything illegal in this episode. Dunder Mifflin suffered a full day’s lost productivity due to Corporate’s poor handling of the bankruptcy situation.

In this week’s episode, the recession finally hit Dunder Mifflin. Faced with such stress, I would have expected the Scranton branch to become a plaintiff’s lawyer’s dream, but shockingly, no one did anything that really violated any employment laws. Jim tricked Dwight into beating himself up instead of injuring Kevin, avoiding a potential battery and workers’ compensation claim. Although, I suppose Dwight could have made a workers’ comp claim based on his injuries since Dunder Mifflin sanctioned his Karate Seminar. Angela was uncomfortable with her game character and could have tried to make a religious discrimination claim because she did not want to be a voodoo witch doctor, but that’s a pretty weak claim. Dwight also should not have told the staff that they cannot unionize if they come work for him. It is illegal for an employer to prohibit unionization under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

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Belles, Bourbon, Bullets & Bankruptcy

November 13, 2009 - by: Jody Ward-Rannow 6 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $0. Shockingly no one did anything illegal in this episode. Dunder Mifflin suffered a full day’s lost productivity due to Corporate’s poor handling of the bankruptcy situation.

In this week’s episode, the recession finally hit Dunder Mifflin. Faced with such stress, I would have expected the Scranton branch to become a plaintiff’s lawyer’s dream, but shockingly, no one did anything that really violated any employment laws. Jim tricked Dwight into beating himself up instead of injuring Kevin, avoiding a potential battery and workers’ compensation claim. Although, I suppose Dwight could have made a workers’ comp claim based on his injuries since Dunder Mifflin sanctioned his Karate Seminar. Angela was uncomfortable with her game character and could have tried to make a religious discrimination claim because she did not want to be a voodoo witch doctor, but that’s a pretty weak claim. Dwight also should not have told the staff that they cannot unionize if they come work for him. It is illegal for an employer to prohibit unionization under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

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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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