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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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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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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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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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.

Safety Training (with Guest Blogger Jason Loring)

April 12, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $40,000

Duty calls and Julie is not able to blog this week due to work. I’m a fellow labor and employment attorney with Ford & Harrison and also a fan of the show. This week’s episode certainly did not disappoint.

The episode starts with the Dunder Mifflin employees gathered around for a “safety meeting” that is intended to teach the “office workers” about safety. (Can’t you just feel the lawsuit coming?) Darryl, the meeting leader, is on crutches. Why? Michael kicked a ladder out from underneath Darryl while he was reaching for a supply box on a top shelf. Not a good idea. If Michael was acting in the scope of his employment when he kicked out the ladder, Dunder Mifflin could certainly be on the hook for all of Darryl’s medical expenses, which could cost upwards of $40,000. Given Michael’s speckled past as a less than stellar manager, Dunder Mifflin might also be exposed to possible claims of negligent hiring and negligent retention of Michael. read more…

The Injury

March 30, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 0 COMMENTS

Litigation Value $ 30,000 (or if Dwight’s injuries are permanent, then $500,000)

I don’t know whether a concussion suffered when rushing off to “save” your boss after he burns his foot on a George Foreman grill would be considered a workers’ compensation injury, but if it is, Dunder Mifflin (or, more accurately, their insurance carrier) is looking at paying Dwight some money. Under the workers’ compensation laws, Dunder Mifflin is probably on the hook for Dwight’s medical expenses and a percentage of his lost wages. On the bright side, these damages are far less than they would be in a tort action, which, luckily, Dwight would be precluded from bringing against the Company.

And no, a slightly toasted foot is not a disability under the ADA. While many impairments that you never dreamed would be considered a “disability” are often covered by the law, I just can’t see how this one would be. Nevertheless, Michael’s training to promote awareness about individuals with disabilities is probably not going to do much to get Dunder Mifflin out of the hot water it got itself into when Dwight re-did the health plan.

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