Might Doesn’t Make Right, Dwight

October 01, 2009 - by: Brian Kurtz 0 COMMENTS

This week’s episode — “The Promotion” — had nothing to do with advancement in the workplace. In fact, the only thing it promoted was how to get fired. When the episode ended, I identified five Scranton employees whom David Wallace should discharge if he wants to minimize potential liability:

Dwight. He opened the episode fantasizing about placing Jim in a “triangle choke hold.” Later on he disrupted the workplace with an impassioned attempt to enlist his coworkers to “drag [Jim] out of his office.” The Office is funny, but workplace violence … not so much. Dwight’s threats were even more egregious because they were unprovoked, and Dwight repeatedly targeted a single employee. Prudent employers take a zero-tolerance approach to workplace violence. An employer that retains an employee it knows has threatened coworkers is begging for costly litigation and bad press. Just about every company not named Dunder Mifflin would have let Dwight go that day.

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Company-Sponsored Hijinks

September 04, 2009 - by: Jaclyn West 6 COMMENTS

In the rerun episode of “Company Picnic,” Season 5′s finale, we saw the Dunder Mifflinites don branch t-shirts and head out for a day of friendly competition, team-building and — because this is Dunder Mifflin we’re dealing with — potential disaster. We already discussed the noteworthy events, such as Michael announcing the closing of the Buffalo branch to the entire company, including the shocked Buffalo employees and their families… so I thought I’d just say a few words about employer-sponsored recreation.

Company picnics can be a great bonding experience and are often appreciated by employees, but they are also fertile ground for mishaps of all sorts. For instance, Pam and Jim told the story of last year’s picnic, where an inebriated guest tried to regain some stability by hanging onto Pam and apparently got a bit fresh. That’s never good news if you’re Human Resources. (Speaking of HR, I’ve just got to shake my head over Holly Flax. It’s dangerous enough for a company when employees get involved with one another, worse still when a manager is involved in a workplace relationship. But as an HR professional, Holly’s judgment in getting involved with two coworkers is pretty darn questionable.)

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Season of Mercy

July 03, 2009 - by: Kylie Crawford 2 COMMENTS

Last night’s Moroccan Christmas episode is one of my favorites, and as usual, it offered plenty of what-not-to-dos.  At the center of the episode was Michael’s forced intervention with Meredith about her alcohol (porn?) addiction.  But there was also something else at play in the episode.  There was some serious bullying going on.

Phyllis finally has the upper-hand with Angela, who she caught having sex with Dwight.  Phyllis bosses Angela around, threatening to tell everyone about their affair, including Angela’s fiancé, Andy.  (Phyllis doesn’t think her actions constitute blackmail unless she sends a formal letter – we’ll save this for another rerun!)  Phyllis orders Angela to put away most of her off-theme nativity scene, get everyone a plate of hummus with fanned pita triangles and fanned napkins, and wear a hair net.  When Angela fights back, Phyllis tells everyone in the office, except Andy (next episode is going to be awkward!), about Angela’s affair with Dwight.

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Spotting Your Michaels (and Dwights)

June 12, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 2 COMMENTS

After watching last night’s repeat of The Office, I decided that some of my clients’ stories this week were more titillating. That’s what she said. (Couldn’t resist.)

The theme of calls that I got this week almost made me feel like I was on the show. I looked for cameras (and Ashton and Howie) more than a few times. It started bright and early Monday morning. At my client’s business office, a supervisor started teasing his subordinate about her weight. He told her that the economy had not gotten in the way of her eating, that there were kids in whole counties that go without that she could feed if she skipped a meal, etc. Michael, is that you?

Tuesday and Wednesday were even better (of course, just from a “I can’t believe this train wreck is happening” perspective). A different client’s regional manager (yes, regional manager) called a lunch meeting to boost morale. He noted that purpose in his email. At the lunch, he began making fun of people. He poked fun at their physical appearances, their ethnicities, and their poor work ethic. He wasn’t random about it; the folks he was joking about were being laid off — that week. Better: His boss was at the lunch. And, he laughed and laughed. Michael? David (but without judgment)?

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All’s Not Fair in Love and War

April 17, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $250,000

Things escalated quickly during the “Heavy Competition” episode of The Office. Michael Scott ratcheted up his sales efforts by trying to get Dwight Schrute to give him some of Dunder Mifflin’s customers. But when new Dunder Mifflin boss Charles Minor gained Dwight’s respect (with a well-appreciated handshake –- “it’s firm!”), the deal was off, and the gloves came off, too.  Who could be liable to whom, and for how much?

First, Dunder Mifflin could do very well in a suit against Michael and his company. Michael tried to steal Dunder Mifflin’s customers, and might have done so unlawfully. Like we talked about a couple of weeks ago, although individuals can compete with their former employers, there are some restrictions. One such restriction is that you can’t conspire with a current employee to steal trade secrets. The only question is the amount of damages –- that’s difficult to determine because we don’t know how successful Michael has been. Let’s call it $50,000 for now.

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Take One for the Team

April 09, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $60,000

There was just too much going on last night on The Office. Two Episodes, multiple story lines, and several unlawful actions that could lead to big money damages against Dunder Mifflin -– and the new Michael Scott Paper Company.

On the “Dream Team” episode, Michael and Pam set out to start the new company.  Unfortunately for Michael, the company got off on the wrong foot when his own Nana refused to invest in the company, and when he gave Pam all she needed to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against the new firm. It was one thing for Michael to wear his bathrobe to greet Pam for her first day at the company; but when he flashed her a few minutes later, he created a hostile work environment. Pretty good first hour for the company. Let’s call that $50,000, just because Michael hasn’t had a chance to drive the verdict any higher yet.

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A Comeback Story

February 02, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 3 COMMENTS

Employment law attorney Troy Foster examines the “Stress Relief” episode of The Office, which aired after the Super Bowl. He finds that Dundler Mifflin could be liable to Stanley for the stress Michael and Dwight cause him, to Meredith for Michael’s boorish jokes, and to Oscar for Michael’s weekly homophobic and racist comments

Litigation Value: $615,000 Total

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A Really Hostile Environment

January 16, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 4 COMMENTS

Litigation value: $ 30,000

There is no question that Jim Halpert, acting manager at Dunder Mifflin Scranton while Michael Scott was away, did a terrible job of diffusing and/or preventing a fight on company property on “The Duel” episode of The Office. Fortunately, the fight between Dwight Schrute and Andy Bernard didn’t lead to any serious injury. Otherwise, we might be talking about more than $30,000 this week.

Both Dwight and Andy could make claims that the company should have intervened and stopped them from brawling. Realistically, neither of these dorks’ claims is going anywhere. No jury is giving Dwight’s big head and beet-stained teeth big money because Dunder Mifflin didn’t protect him from Andy’s 4 mph Prius attack. That said, companies can be held liable for fights between employees at work in some circumstances, so we’ll say $30,000 just to show that there’s something, although not much, to their claims.

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From My Cold, Dead Hands

July 17, 2008 - by: Troy Foster 1 COMMENTS

You might have heard that the Supreme Court recently threw out the District of Columbia’s decades-long ban on handguns. Of course, there are limitations. If you are mentally insane or a convicted felon, then you’re out of luck. So, many of our favorites on The Office probably still can’t pack heat into the Capitol — thank goodness.

But with this change in policy, many of our clients have asked if we are going to start seeing employees trying to carry more than the normal baggage to work. Of course we will. The media have covered it but good, and employees (especially the ones with time on their hands) are looking to establish boundaries. (Why does it sound like I’m talking about raising my kids?)

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Categories: Workplace Violence

Fun Run

September 28, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 6 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Approximately $450,000 (depends on how much Meredith’s medical bills are)

It is good to be back and last night’s episode was a great start for a promising season!

When a manager runs over an employee with a company car on company property, it’s time to contact the finance department about setting aside a pot of money to pay the large verdict that will eventually be awarded against the company. Especially where, as is the case here, the accident may not be covered by workers’ compensation. Add to that Michael’s admission to his boss that the accident was caused by his “negligence,” and Meredith has the beginnings of a nice little lawsuit. Maybe this would be the time for Dunder Mifflin’s attorneys to remind Michael of my favorite saying: “If you can’t be good, then, for the love of God, just be quiet.”

Speaking of God, we generally recommend that our clients refrain from calling a staff meeting for the express purpose of inquiring about their employees’ religious beliefs. And we really try to discourage managers from suggesting that the staff perform animal sacrifices to some creature with the body of a walrus and the head of a meerkat. Suffice it to say that what Michael calls an ‘investigation” into whether his branch is cursed, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission calls “evidence” of religious discrimination.

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