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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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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Booze, Porn Addiction, and Interventions: What a Holiday Party

December 12, 2008 - by: Troy Foster 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $1,000,000

The folks at Dunder Mifflin must have felt like giving because they were essentially writing checks on the “Moroccan Christmas” episode of The Office. As always, there was plenty of inappropriate conduct going on this week, but rarely does it rise to this level.

Michael served excessive amounts of alcohol to Meredith, causing her to get drunk and light herself on fire ($); then, he led an intervention about her alcoholism — at work ($$); and then, he basically kidnapped her and physically assaulted her as he tried to falsely imprison her at the rehabilitation center ($$$).

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Dunder-Sponsored Drinking

November 14, 2008 - by: Troy Foster 4 COMMENTS

Cost of drinks: $500
Litigation Value: $100,000 – $1,000,000 (depends on how seriously someone gets hurt and who it is)
Watching the Drunken Debauchery: Priceless, but probably not worth the risk.

The problem that caught my attention during the “Business” Trip episode of The Office was the company-sponsored drinking event that led to Andy and Oscar drunk-dialing Angel and Michael going home with the concierge. When employees get drunk at office parties, the company can be held liable for their actions.

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Survivorman

November 09, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 3 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $150.00 (for the birthday cakes)

As they always say, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Nowhere is this more true than at office parties, birthday or otherwise. Lucky for Dunder Mifflin, the biggest party-related issue in last night’s episode was birthday cake. But sometimes employers just aren’t that lucky. Take, for instance, the annual holiday party. It is just amazing what can happen after folks get a few drinks in them. And, in many cases, employers are on the hook for the aftermath.

In many states, employers who serve alcohol at parties can be liable for the acts of their drunken employees. And that’s where it starts to get really expensive. Not to mention that free flowing booze can result in complaints of sexual harassment. After all, who hasn’t been to an office party where some outrageously drunk co-worker turns into the office-Casanova? I’m not saying employers necessarily need to turn into office party Scrooges; they just need to keep an eye on things. Sure, some folks will gripe about the limited drink tickets or the “no alcohol” policy but, as I said, you just can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Categories: Office Party

Booze Cruise

June 29, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE: $0.00 – $1,000,000+ (depending on how bad the car accident caused by a drunk Dunder Mifflin employee is)

Having an open bar at an employee party with no way to limit alcohol consumption is not a great idea. Hosting a “booze cruize” on the Lake Wollenpaupack Princess in January with no way to limit alcohol consumption is a downright terrible idea. Making the party mandatory, calling it “leadership training,” and refusing to tell employees about the location ahead of time so they can arrange safe transportation home? I smell punitive damages. Well, at least in those states that recognize “social host” liability.

I’m not saying that you can’t have alcohol at a company-sponsored party. You can. But some steps should be taken to limit the company’s exposure. Some tips to avoid liability? Arrange free transportation services for those who over-imbibe; use drink “coupons” to limit the amount of alcohol served to each person; and assign a few responsible folks to monitor the evening. As you might have guessed, saying those things doesn’t make employment law attorneys and human resources the most popular party guests. Was it just me or did anyone else notice that Toby was not at the party?

Categories: Office Party

The Convention Reprised

May 25, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

Throwing a virtual rave in a company-sponsored hotel room complete with black lights and a full assortment of hard liquor, while at the same time seeking to secure business opportunities, is a recipe for disaster. Luckily for Dunder Mifflin, Michael was miserably unsuccessful in creating the bacchanalian setting he so desperately longed for. But other companies have fared far worse. By way of example, one company found itself embroiled in litigation for injuries suffered by its employee who, after spilling his beer on a fellow reveler at a karaoke bar on Bourbon Street, was kicked in the groin during a bar fight. Employers are also frequently held liable for injuries caused when their employee gets drunk at company-sponsored parties and then get behind the wheel. In one case in Alaska, the jury awarded $635,000 when an employee imbibed at a convention and then crippled a pedestrian on his way home.

This may be one time when Michael’s ineptitude actually saved Dunder Mifflin some money!

Ben Franklin

February 01, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 9 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE: $800,000+

If an executive learns that a regional manager has sponsored a bachelor party in the warehouse, hired a stripper, offered to “deflower” the bride, taken an employee to a sex store, received a lap dance, and allowed a pervert dressed up like Benjamin Franklin to make a lewd statement to the receptionist, she should fire him. As soon as possible. Anything else and the company is looking at significant liability. Of course, at Dunder Mifflin, Jan is likely caught in a Catch-22. As soon as she fires Michael, she could be facing a charge for her own conduct in having an affair with her subordinate. Ah, what a tangled web we weave….

As this week’s episode colorfully illustrates, it is not enough to have an anti-harassment policy. Dunder Mifflin has one (as Michael mentioned- twice) and look what happened. Rather, employers must demonstrate that they take the policy seriously and that they are committed to stopping sexual harassment in the workplace. If they can’t, a court is likely to find the policy ineffective. And when it does, the company can say goodbye to its affirmative defense and say hello to punitive damages.

The Return

January 18, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 2 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE: $300,000+

Thank god for damage caps. No matter how well intentioned, throwing a “welcome back” party for your Mexican-American employee by decorating the break room with piñatas, paper sombreros and streamers in the colors of the Mexican flag is not a good idea. Ever. Under no set of circumstances. Sure, Michael (and the party planning committee) meant well, but that is not going to be enough to get Dunder Mifflin out of this one.

The message that Michael’s party sends to Oscar (and to the other employees) is that Oscar is first and foremost Hispanic. Sure, the issue was exaggerated. Come on. It is a sitcom – it has to be exaggerated. In the real world, bias is much more subtle: the manager who does not assign the female employee to attend a conference in another city because he thinks it may interfere with her family duties; assigning black employees to traditionally “black” areas of town; or the unknowing remarks based on ethnic stereotypes. Indeed, in many of the cases that I defend, I see managers and employees who make joking references to pop culture without ever knowing that the reference plays on a negative ethnic (or gender) stereotype. I’m not saying employers should unnaturally sterilize the workplace, I just think that employees, and especially managers, should be aware of how their comments may be perceived by others. And employers should have the necessary training in place to make sure their employees can recognize the red flags when they see them.

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The Convention

September 28, 2006 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE: Nominal (but only because Michael’s party was a flop)

Unfortunately for employers, what happens in Vegas does not always stay in Vegas. As a result, employers are increasingly faced with liability for their employees’ “booze-fueled sex romps,” as Michael so elegantly put it. Maybe it’s the exotic locale, or maybe it’s the free liquor, but one thing is certain: Conventions can be fertile grounds for employment-based lawsuits. Sometimes, between their second and third martinis, employees seem to forget that they are representing their employer and that their company’s policies, especially the sexual harassment policy, remain in effect. Too often you hear tales of the intoxicated supervisor who invites his (or her) young associate to visit his (or her) hotel room. Not generally the type of evidence that you want to be faced with. Lucky for the company, Jim was the only person who actually went to Michael’s party.

As for Toby, I’m just glad that his conscience kicked in at the last minute. Either that or he lost his courage. Either way, it was probably a good thing that the director of human resources did not proposition the receptionist.

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