Finale

May 17, 2013 - by: Brian Kurtz 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value:  Bless your heart if you’re still keeping track at this point.

This blog has always focused on bad behavior.  We tease out employment law issues by writing about the characters who do things in the workplace that one simply does not do. So last night’s series finale of the The Office poses quite a challenge in that most of the characters, with a few notable exceptions, exhibited exemplary behavior.

Take Dwight, for example. There was hope early on when he gave Kevin his “Get Out”  that he might fuel a few lawsuits. It was not to be. By the end of the episode, Dwight was careful to turn Pam and Jim’s departure into a termination just so he could offer them a generous severance package. After all these years, Jim has gone from Dwight’s mortal enemy to his bestest mensch.

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Cheer or fear

December 28, 2012 - by: Brian Kurtz 0 COMMENTS

Litigation value: $0.00 for a drunk, passed out (and likely concussed) Daryl, but Jim has a cause of action for battery against Belsnickel.

My colleague, Doug Hall, wrote about the “Dwight Christmas” episode three weeks ago when it first aired.  I agree with him that employers need to be careful with their holiday social events to minimize potential liability.  However, it appears that many states, including Pennsylvania, will not impose what is commonly called “social host” liability.

In the Congini case, the employer hosted a Christmas party where it served free alcohol to employees and guests.  A visibly intoxicated employee left the party in his car and was seriously injured in an accident.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the employer could be held liable, but only because the drunk employee in that case was a minor.  The court reaffirmed the general rule that an adult host serving alcohol to his adult guests should not be liable for injuries they subsequently cause or suffer.

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Die Hard … with a Christmas vengeance

December 06, 2012 - by: Doug Hall 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $50,000 or so, depending on how much harm comes out of an essentially unsupervised holiday party

It is the annual Christmas episode of The Office, and it’s bittersweet as Jim and Pam talk about how this will be the last Christmas party for the both of them at Dunder Mifflin Scranton–much like it will be our last Christmas show with this group. The episode feels a bit thrown together at the last minute compared to previous Christmas shows, just like the office’s party itself. The entire office has somehow overlooked that today is the day for the Christmas party, forcing the party-planning committee to scramble to come up with something.

In the absence of any better idea, the planning committee (minus Angela) seizes on Dwight’s idea to hold a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch Christmas, just like he experienced as a child. Dwight manages to put on quite the production, complete with a visit from Belsnickel, the fur-wearing, switch-wielding Christmas gift-giver. (I, along with the denizens of The Office, was surprised to find out that Belsnickel is part of a real southwestern German tradition.) In the meantime, Jim is anxious about getting to Philly to start his new job, while Andy and Erin drift further apart, with Erin finding a shoulder to cry on, and to watch Die Hard with, when Andy informs her that he plans to stay a couple of extra weeks in Barbados (or is it the Bahamas) to “figure this life thing out.”

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Don’t be tardy to Nellie’s party!

July 19, 2012 - by: Doug Hall 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Nothing this week — unless the magician sues for emotional distress.

Tonight’s “gently viewed” episode, “Welcome Party,” finds the gang dragooned by Robert California into performing favors for Robert’s newest crush, Nellie. Jim and Dwight are sent to help Nellie unpack her 30 boxes from London (and two trunks from Florida) into her new apartment, while the rest of the office is tasked with organizing a party to welcome Nellie into their community. Because Nellie is universally disliked, however, the party planners decide to throw her an intentionally bad party (as opposed to all the unintentionally bad parties in this history of the office). But when Jim and Dwight stumble across some personal history about Nellie (involving a stage magician) that shows her more vulnerable side, Jim calls Pam to tell her to put the kibosh on the plans. Alas, plans are too far along for Pam to do so. At least the office mates agree to use a code word (“Pam”) when referring to Nellie, so Nellie never realizes that the mean comments are directed at her. And Jim and Dwight gallantly come to Nellie’s side by ruining the magic act brought in for Nellie’s party (it makes sense if you see the episode).

Group bullying of this sort is, of course, not very nice, even if its target is herself rude and thoughtless at times. But would the actions of her co-workers give a claim against Dunder-Mifflin, assuming Nellie learned that they were directed at her?  Not likely. The statements were not because of, or based on, any protected characteristic, such as race, gender or age. Certainly they could be perceived as “hostile” but, contrary to popular opinion, courts generally do not recognize claims based simply on hostility in the workplace — the workplace has to be hostile based on a protected category. Indeed, courts have held that the anti-discrimination laws are not a general “civility code.” So, although this conduct could lead to problems down the road (and should be nipped in the bud), it should not provide a basis for liabiity. Moreover, Nellie’s own inappropriate statements about members of ethnic groups, seen earlier in the episode, would make it more difficult for her to claim that she was harmed by the conduct.

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Ooh, Ooh, She’s Magic

April 13, 2012 - by: Jaclyn West 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Not much from this episode, but if Nellie sticks around her apparent prejudice against the Irish and Hispanics could lead to some sticky legal situations.

Another week, another party in Scranton. Last night on The Office, Robert had the party-planning committee working hard on a party to welcome Nellie into the fold. Problem is, the party-planning committee doesn’t actually like Nellie. Nor does anyone else in the office, for that matter. So Pam comes up with the idea to throw a terrible party for Nellie. The gang strings up black streamers, buys bad food (a carrot cake — it’s like a salad bar, as Kevin indignantly points out), and hires Creed to play “all originals.” And the piece de resistance — they hire a magician, because Nellie hates magicians.

But in the process of helping Nellie move into her new apartment while the party-planning goes on, Jim and Dwight learn that Nellie — prejudice against the Irish and Oscar notwithstanding — isn’t all bad. In fact, much of her abrasive attitude is rooted in having to start her life over in a new country after getting her heart broken by “a bloody stage magician.”

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Splish Splash

April 06, 2012 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value:  California and his cohorts swimming nude in front of employees = far too much to calculate; Andy trying to get his “monog” on = one trip to the hospital for an oxygen-deprived Dwight; and Kevin getting to create a party without the party planning committee’s input = priceless.

This was certainly not our first Dunder Mifflin party, but it was our first Office pool party which meant much hilarity and debauchery.  My colleague thoroughly covered this episode when it first aired in January.  As this period of re-runs continues, I wanted to take this opportunity to go over my top 5 tips for work-related pool parties. 

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A “Get-Together”

January 20, 2012 - by: Matt Rita 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value:  Call it what you will — a get-together, party, or bacchanalia. By any name, tonight’s gathering at the soon-to-be-former home of Robert California could prove costly for both Dunder Mifflin Sabre and its chief executive.

Are you ready for some meatballs?”  At night’s end, The Office‘s figurative answer to that literal question by Stanley (a/k/a Dwight’s carnivorous co-conspirator) was definitely “No” — that is, if the exodus of swimmers from the indoor pool of their au naturel boss was any indication.

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Can’t Beet a Garden Party

December 29, 2011 - by: Doug Hall 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Zilch. An episode blissfully free of employment law problems!

Tonight’s episode — the last of 2011 — brings up a reprise of “The Garden Party,” previously blogged by my colleague Brian Kurtz.

Most of the action takes place outside of the usual office setting, at Dwight’s bucolic beet farm/budding party venue. In an effort to impress both Robert California and his parents, Andy decides to throw a garden party — with “Connecticut casual” as the dress code. My favorite running joke in the episode involves Dwight’s slavish devotion to a book on how to throw a garden party, not knowing that it was penned by Jim (under the nom de plume “James Trickington”). I know there will be a “tableau vivant” at my New Year’s Eve party!

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Merry Mifflin

December 16, 2011 - by: Jaclyn West 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Lots and lots of coal in everybody’s stockings!

Last night’s episode of The Office was a repeat of the night we were introduced to Pam’s temporary replacement, Kathy. Since my colleague Josh Drexler ably covered that episode when it aired a few weeks ago, I thought I’d just take this opportunity to look back at all the holiday fun our friends at Dunder Mifflin have experienced over the years. Here are my top 10 “Dunder Mifflin Holiday Moments” of the past seven seasons:

10. Playing “Yankee Swap” at the season 2 Christmas party… Michael’s dissatisfaction with his sweetly hand-knit gift from Phyllis led to a free-for-all in which everyone tried to win the iPod he had bought for Ryan (despite a $20 price limit).

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There Was Talk of Oatmeal

December 09, 2011 - by: Matt Rita 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value:  Surprisingly, despite the free-flowing shots and porcupine quills, the legal risks associated with the most recent Dunder Mifflin Sabre holiday party ultimately proved to be relatively low.  What “holiday” am I referring to?  Well, just ask Stanley.

If only more employees could be like Kevin — not wanting to put anyone out, while content to sate themselves with apple cinnamon and maple brown sugar (in one bowl, with whole milk).  But alas, at this time of year, many of us have watched co-workers (over)indulge other appetites.

In Pennsylvania, where our favorite paper company (occasionally) conducts business, Section 4-493 of the Liquor Code makes it unlawful to “permit any liquor or malt or brewed beverages to be . . . furnished or given, to any person visibly intoxicated.”  Long before Oscar relieved him behind the bar, Robert should have known that Erin and Meredith had reached (or exceeded) their respective limits.  But to the credit of both him and Andy, the company’s upper management — such as it is — saw to it that the most impaired team members made it home safely.  Call it a best practice.

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