Pushing the Limits of PDA

March 18, 2011 - by: Joshua Drexler 0 COMMENTS

When last night’s episode originally aired on February 10, 2011, I noted that the Scranton office more closely resembled a nightclub at the height of the sexual revolution than a reputable place of business — see my original commentary entitled “Let’s Get It On.” I discussed recent findings on the prevalence of workplace dating, as well as the inherent liability risks with office romances.

This time I’m going to focus more narrowly on the issue of PDA, or “Public Display of Affection,” as Michael and Holly’s exhibition is worthy of the record books. Their fondling, caressing, heavy breathing, etc., made everyone around them nauseatingly uncomfortable. Michael and Holly were so engrossed in each other that they were oblivious to their own PDA – an intervention was required just to bring it to their attention.

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Let’s Get It On…

February 11, 2011 - by: Joshua Drexler 4 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: none now, but plenty in the making.

Studio 54 was a nightclub in New York City with infamously loose rules related to sexual expression. Rumor has it that back-room rendezvous were the norm. Sabre/Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton office may be trying to give the club a run for its money.

Dwight Schrute reminded us that practically everyone in the office has had sex there at some point. Jim and Pam got it on last night. We’re not sure where they did the deed, but after imbibing during lunch, they almost hooked up in a cardboard box. Ryan actually extended an invitation for them to use his closet/office.

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Sticky Quips

February 03, 2011 - by: Brian Kurtz 4 COMMENTS

Litigation value: $8.99 + tip for Michael’s “free” lunch, although Michael’s tort action for false imprisonment against Mr. Chu and the Chinese restaurant will more than cover it.

From an employment liability perspective, it is probably a good thing for Dunder Mifflin/Sabre that Michael’s character is leaving the show soon. One suspects that his soon-to-be-rekindled relationship with coworker Holly will not end well. Which is too bad because we learned this week that Holly and Michael are quite literally of one mind. But this is The Office, and when the relationship goes down in flames (and it will), one of my colleagues will write about it on this page.

The main plot line in this week’s episode, “The Search,” is — wait for it — the search for Michael as he roams the streets of Scranton sans wallet and phone. But the real action for the employment lawyer is back in the office where Pam has done a drawing and is putting on a caption contest. Consider Gabe’s contest “ground rules”:

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Veggie Tale of Terror

January 21, 2011 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Inappropriate Comments by Kevin, Creed, Michael, and Darryl = Yet More Expensive Fodder for Hostile Work Environment Claims; Cost of Sparkly Resolution Board = $4; Michael Force-Feeding Broccoli to Kevin = Priceless.

It’s a brand new year, and our friends at Sabre are determined to start off on the right foot by sticking to their resolutions . . . at least until Michael assaults Kevin with veggies and Creed cracks under the pressure of learning to do a cartwheel. It looks like we have many more Office antics to look forward to in 2011.

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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Gags

October 15, 2010 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 2 COMMENTS

Kidnapping day laborers = possible jail time for Dwight; giving Oscar another paid vacation and use of a company car= $15,000; settling claims related to Andy’s sex-ed course = more than just some free pizza; watching Michael try to convince an elderly stranger that they were once lovers = priceless.

Between Michael tracking down his former girlfriends over an STD scare and Andy using a sex-ed course to find out if Erin is practicing abstinence, last night’s shenanigans certainly made for an expensive and unproductive day for Sabre. One of the many lessons from last night’s episode is that romantic relationships between employees can lead to serious awkwardness and even potential liability. For example, after noticing a cold sore, Michael began a mission to notify his past girlfriends that they might have herpes. This list of old flames included his former supervisor, a human resources manager, and even Oscar (which we’ll get to shortly). I must admit, though, that I enjoyed Michael interrupting Jan’s ridiculous sing-a-long by abruptly stating , “I have herpes.”

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The Wedding, Part II

July 23, 2010 - by: Matt Scott 1 COMMENTS

Well, it’s a little difficult to write about the perils of working in Scranton with Michael Scott as your boss when the entire office is attending a wedding, but here goes. After watching last night’s repeat episode of Jim’s and Pam’s wedding, I can’t say that getting married to a coworker is always a bad thing (I met my wife when I was clerking for a company after my second year of law school, and we will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary next month, and as Chris Rock has joked, “If my dad hadn’t sexually harassed my mom, I wouldn’t be here”).

Nor is inviting your coworkers to a wedding an absolute no-no (my wife and I obviously did that, too, and no one got into too much trouble). That said, office romances and non-work functions often bring trouble. Many employers worry about liability for conduct that occurs between employees at non-work sponsored functions, and rightly so. Many times, sexual harassment cases draw on activities that occur away from the workplace, as do all types of discrimination cases. Workers let their hair down when they’re away from the office, and these social activities can provide fertile ground for discrimination claims.

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Lovers, Fighters, and Nappers — Oh, My!

May 14, 2010 - by: Jaclyn West 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Up to $50,000 — or maybe more — to settle Toby’s claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress; $3,000 to train the employees again on what is and what is not appropriate office behavior (especially with regard to office romance); more fodder for Erin’s sexual harassment case; and some individual legal fees for Dwight and Angela.

Whew! The employees over at Dunder Mifflin/Sabre have been busy. So busy, in fact, that it’s hard to name anyone who was actually on good behavior last night. (Except for maybe Andy. He was certainly inserting himself inappropriately into Michael’s personal life, but his heart was in the right place. In most workplaces, though, it’s generally not a good idea to force your boss to confront his married girlfriend’s spouse. Even if you introduce your boss as “my associate, Sheldon.”)

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Be Careful What You Wish For

April 23, 2010 - by: Matt Scott 3 COMMENTS

“This Is Why You Don’t Date Co-Workers” — that’s what tonight’s episode of The Office should have been called. In an amazing twist of fate, this may be the only episode of The Office in which Michael Scott is (a) the voice of reason and understanding and (b) does virtually NOTHING offensive. Instead, this episode was all about the perils of intra-office dating.

Andy Bernard, the consummate goofball, almost literally has to twist Michael’s arm to get him to take Andy’s office paramour, Erin, to lunch for Secretary’s Day so Andy can show Erin how much he cares for and appreciates her (not sure why he thinks lunch with Michael shows this, but he does). But Erin’s so completely off-the-wall and mundane lunch ramblings left even Michael struggling to make conversation with her. And in doing so, Michael stumbles into telling Erin about Andy’s former engagement to Angela, which apparently Andy had not gotten around to mentioning to Erin. And for Andy, things went downhill from there.

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A Tale of Two Repeats

April 02, 2010 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Very Little.  Destination Wedding = $25,000; Niagara Falls Ceremony after Escaping Wedding = $100; Diapering Angela’s Cat = Priceless.

Given that last night consisted of two repeats, two of my colleagues have already done a wonderful job of covering issues raised by the Dunder Mifflin gang’s antics last night. Although last night’s episodes did not give rise to much in the way of litigation value, here’s a rundown of my top 10 things not to do at the office (or anywhere else, for that matter).

  1. Offer to stick spicy food (or anything else) into a coworker’s rectum.
  2. Discuss a coworker’s nipples. On the other hand, I definitely agree with Michael that no coworkers should be stimulating Pam’s nipples at Dunder Mifflin.
  3. Offer to bring a nippleless shirt to the office. Why Meredith has a nippleless anything in the car is a mystery to me. Of course, it may be the newest craze from the JWow collection.
  4. Pretend to shoot coworkers, even with your finger. This is particularly true if you intend to simulate gruesome brain splatter.
  5. Openly discuss the fact that Stanley has two lovers and you don’t have any.
  6. Decide to sleep nude in two coworkers’ bed, even if you are secretly eradicating mold and remodeling their kitchen for free.
  7. Announce that a coworker must have needed an “afternoon delight” with his wife.
  8. Discuss the relative hotness of a coworker as she stands uncomfortably next to you.
  9. Spread a rumor that a coworker has an elephant heart.
  10. Negotiate a parenting contract with a former office flame, even if your biological clock is ticking so loudly you awaken to find yourself cradling a gourd on your beet farm.

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Baby, Baby, Please

March 05, 2010 - by: Chris Butler 3 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Not much.

With collective attentions devoted almost entirely to the miracle of childbirth, the Scranton branch didn’t leave us much to work with tonight. Whereas Dwight Schrute’s senseless destruction of Jim and Pam Halpert’s kitchen cabinetry exposes him to a cornucopia of civil and criminal liabilities in his own right, it’s unlikely that his misconduct would be attributable to Dunder Mifflin.

Indeed, Dunder Mifflin got off light this week. Were it not for the fact that Michael Scott’s systematically inappropriate behavior has become the norm -– considerably lowering the bar and desensitizing the work environment -– his rather unhealthy interest in Pam’s pregnancy might otherwise expose Dunder Mifflin and himself to a rare, but potentially fatal, harassment-based-on-pregnancy claim. Of course, in order to prove pregnancy harassment, Pam would have to show that she was both subjectively and objectively offended by Michael’s repeated references to, and his actions based on, her pregnancy; and that they were pervasive enough to interfere with her ability to perform her job or to otherwise create a hostile work environment. Inasmuch as Michael means well, and Pam doesn’t appear to be overly offended by his innocuous behavior, it’s doubtful this variation of a sex/pregnancy discrimination theory would hold up in court.

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