Ain’t No Business Like Snow Business

December 10, 2010 - by: Chris Butler 2 COMMENTS

Blawg 100Litigation Value: Not much, yet; but, potentially millions if Dwight goes on a murderous rampage.

Is hurling snowballs really that big a deal?! Last week, it was the Cincinnati Bearcats mascot; this week, it’s Dwight Schrute and Jim Halpert — one gets arrested, the other two undergo corrective counseling.

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It’s Not Easy Being Green

December 03, 2010 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS

Blawg 100Litigation Value: Front-row seat for the epic Michael v. Oscar battle of the wits = $0; coffee from the office coffee bar = a shocking $8 per cup;  watching Dwight fail miserably at drinking coffee with his toes = priceless.

In this week’s episode, Oscar and Michael battle it out to see who is the smartest person in the office, while Dwight and Pam face off about Dwight’s new cost-saving measures in the building. Let the Scranton games begin.

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Who’s In Charge Around Here?

November 11, 2010 - by: Brian Kurtz 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value:  $0.00

Who’s the boss?

In the opening scene of the “Viewing Party,” the staff is crowded around a TV in the conference room watching local coverage of the Scranton Strangler. Gabe walks in and directs everyone to return to work. They ignore him. Later, in the kitchen, Kevin refers to Gabe as Michael’s “boss” . . . in front of Michael. Employees scatter. At Gabe’s Glee viewing party, Michael and Gabe face off in the ultimate test of masculinity and dominion — control over the clicker.

It goes without saying that an organization cannot function properly without effective leadership. Legally, it’s a toxic situation. Frontline supervisors don’t get any training and don’t know how to deal with employee complaints of harassment or discrimination. Policies and procedures are ineffective, not followed, or simply nonexistent. There is no consistent treatment of employees. Supervisors retaliate against employees. It all invariably leads to costly and disruptive litigation.

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Re-Acting Koi

August 13, 2010 - by: Chris Butler 2 COMMENTS

Additional (Hypothetical) Litigation Value: $225,000 to Michael Scott for workers’ compensation benefits and medical expenses.

Neck deep in an August hot enough to boil cement, and we’re dealt yet another repeat. In fact, I extensively covered this episode last October (see Acting Koi), and I’m unsure what else can be said of Michael Scott’s unrelenting tomfoolery. So, let’s modify the script …

Let’s assume that, instead of haphazardly falling into the koi pond,Koi Jim Halpert — the quintessential prankster — had playfully nudged Michael into the drink. Let’s further assume that Jim’s horseplay caused Michael to hurt himself (I’m thinking a well-deserved cracked skull). Would Michael’s head injury be covered by workers’ compensation? Likely, yes. Would Michael be able to then sue Jim for causing his injury? Likely, no.

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The Scranton Vampire Chronicles

Litigation Value: Settling various claims related to Dwight’s bat hunting = $30,000; replacing shredded textbook = $100; convincing your coworker you’re a vampire = priceless.

Given that a colleague of mine has already thoroughly covered the employment law issues in last night’s repeat, let’s rewind to one of my favorite episodes from Season 3 — Business School. This episode takes us back to the Dunder Mifflin days before Ryan Howard went corporate (and then back to temp), before the entire gang danced down the aisle, and obviously before Pam nursed someone else’s baby. In this “oldie but a goody,” Michael Scott (armed only with candy bars and a boom box) faces a room full of hostile college students while the rest of the gang battles one pint-sized vampire bat. Is it any surprise that the creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” directed this episode?

The episode begins with Michael’s delight at being invited to be a “visiting professor” during one of Ryan’s business school classes. What Michael doesn’t know is that Ryan’s sole motivation for the invitation is extra credit. Things quickly deteriorate as Michael pelts students with candy, shreds a student’s textbook, discovers Ryan’s grim prediction for Dunder Mifflin’s future, and ends his speech with a dramatic “SUCK ON THAT!” Something tells me the student in question won’t be content with simply replacing his missing textbook pages with life lessons. Instead of extra credit, Ryan ends up with a new seat in the annex with celebrity-crazed Kelly Kapoor as punishment for declaring that the company will be obsolete in 5-10 years. As Julie discussed in her original analysis of this episode, Dunder Mifflin probably won’t face any liability for Michael’s antics because Ryan did not engage in any protected activity giving rise to a retaliation claim.

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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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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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Jesus Take the Wheel

December 11, 2009 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 5 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: One “Tranny Claus” = $0; One Disgruntled Jesus Impersonator = $0; Settlement Checks for Offended Employees = $50,000; Getting an XBox from Santa = Priceless.

It’s the holiday season again and time for our friends at Dunder Mifflin to trim the tree and try to stay off the Naughty List. Some were more successful than others (i.e. Michael, as usual). While Jim and Dwight “the Christmas Elf” attempted to bring the office closer together by having everyone trim the rather short artificial tree, Michael exhibited some of the worst behavior since he pretended to hang himself in front of frightened trick-or-treaters.

The episode opened with Phyllis finally achieving her long-time goal of playing the coveted role of the office Santa. Unfortunately, Michael did not get the memo and arrived wearing a Santa suit as well.  Instead of graciously allowing Phyllis to be Santa in peace, Michael instead became highly upset and berated Jim for allowing a woman to play the role. Michael bitterly called Phyllis “Tranny Claus” and was intent on ruining the holiday party for everyone else. When it came time for the office employees to sit on Santa’s lap, Michael quickly grabbed a chair to hear everyone’s holiday wish list. However, Michael crossed the line when he announced that he was a man, unlike Phyllis, and said, “Sit on my lap and there will be no doubt.” This is far from the first time that Michael has made sexually suggestive remarks to his subordinates. Who could forget Michael telling Phyllis that she was giving him a “boner”?

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Double Trouble

November 06, 2009 - by: Jaclyn West 5 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: up to $5,000-7,500 to settle Erin’s sexual harassment claim; $2,000 for sexual harassment training (again); up to $10,000 to settle with Michael for failing to protect him from Pam’s slap … and Pam might be spending some of her own money on defending against Michael’s battery claim.

This week on “The Office,” we saw our favorite Scranton residents engaged in their usual bad behavior. Dwight seemed to actually be on fairly good behavior, but of course we soon learned that he was only nice to his coworkers so that they would “owe him,” and he could later cash in the favor to have Jim fired. Did anyone not see that coming? Still, there’s no law against bringing bagels to work! No, what concerned me about the episode were the interactions between Ryan and Erin, and between Pam and Michael.

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