In the Company of Gleeks

January 06, 2011 - by: Doug Hall 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Likely no liability against Sabre/Dunder Mifflin, but Gabe could have some property damage claims against Michael and Andy

Only two more weeks until new episodes of The Office return, and I’m eager to find how the writers will wrap up Michael Scott’s career. Quick question for you Officeheads out there: How do you think they will engineer Michael’s departure from the show? Promoted out of Scranton? Leave the company altogether? And what of Holly? Post a message with your ideas and let’s compare notes.

In the meantime, we are treated to an episode that aired back in November, “The Viewing Party,” which was ably blogged by my colleague Brian Kurtz. Given that virtually the entire episode occurs away from the Scranton Business Park, I am going to focus on a couple of issues regarding what can happen when co-workers gather outside the workplace.

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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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2010 Dundies

August 27, 2010 - by: Jaclyn West 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: A little recognition goes a long way, especially if there’s an unlimited bar tab…

As the weeks roll by, we find ourselves closer and closer to the season premiere and Michael Stott’s last year at the office. But right now, we’re still in the midst of the long, hot summer, and last night was another rerun. Last night we re-watched “St. Patrick’s Day,” which we covered earlier this year. It got me thinking about job satisfaction. In addition to work-life balance, which we discussed on first run, what else do employees need to feel happy in their jobs? Recognition! Now that’s something Michael does very well, especially when the annual Dundie Awards roll around. Here are my picks for 2010:

The Brangelina Award goes to the hottest couple in the office!  Their roller coaster romance gives us plenty to talk about at the water cooler when we should be selling paper. Ladies and gentlemen, Ryan Howard and Kelly Kapoor!

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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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Office Scuttlebutt Redux

June 24, 2010 - by: Chris Butler 2 COMMENTS

Additional Litigation Value:  $150,000 ($50,000 each for Stanley and Andy; $25,000 each for Kelly and Erin)

Tonight’s episode – Gossip – is a repeat from last season.  My law partner, Matt Rita, thoroughly covered Michael Scott’s shenanigans in the first run, astutely pointing out how Michael’s self-generated rumor mill could give rise to an invasion of privacy claim.  Let’s pile on another potential tort claim -– defamation.

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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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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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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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