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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No Guinness for You!

March 12, 2010 - by: Jaclyn West 7 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Probably neglible, seeing as no one seemed to be offended by Michael’s Irish jokes, and Michael himself looked slightly flattered by the long hug with Todd “PacMan” Packer and Meredith.

Who knew that St. Patrick’s Day was such an important holiday at Dunder Mifflin? This week on The Office, we saw our favorite regional paper (and now printer) supplier’s office and employees decked out in their green colors. As Michael put it, “it’s the closest the Irish will ever get to Christmas.” (Points for cultural awareness, Michael, as always.) But the gang almost didn’t make it to the bar for their green beer-soaked celebration, because new boss Jo had them all working late by suggesting that Michael (and everyone else, by extension) should leave work only if he is completely satisfied with the work he has done for the day.  What’s a group of Irish-for-the-day salespeople and accountants to do?

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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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Sabre Rattled – Y’All Come Back Now

February 11, 2010 - by: Doug Hall 6 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $2,500 for Meredith’s workers’ comp claim (those paper cuts can sting!) and more grist for the mill for potential future claims.

Tonight’s episode has the Scranton office continuing to deal with Dunder Mifflin’s acquisition by Sabre International. This time, it is the arrival of Sabre’s colorful president, Jo Bennett, and her two rather large dogs. Much of the episode focuses on the duel between Michael and Jim, as Mrs. (not Ms.) Bennett decides there is no reason to have co-Regional Managers at the branch (which shows already that she is more astute than Dunder Mifflin’s prior management). What starts as a battle to retain the manager’s role ends up being a contest to return to sales, as they realize they can do much better financially under Sabre’s policies as a salesman. At the end of the day, Michael ends up back in the manager’s role while Jim ends up where he belongs, in sales, doing battle with Dwight.

Although the contest between Michael and Jim doesn’t involve potential liability to the company, it points out the issues that can arise when rank-and-file employees earn more than their managers, including a disincentive for the best employees to move into managerial roles. And Dwight and Ryan could be exposing themselves, if not the company, to possible claims arising out of their conversation with Nick the IT guy — Dwight’s false potentially defamatory statement that Jim is under criminal investigation for “molesting people via the Internet” and Ryan’s threat of physical violence if Nick doesn’t turn over Jim’s computer password.

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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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Who Wanted to Be a Millionaire?

December 03, 2009 - by: Doug Hall 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: From Dunder Mifflin’s corporate perspective, likely $0, though it might find itself having to defend claims that it should be liable for Michael’s tuition promise. Michael on the other hand . . . but you can’t get blood from a turnip, right?

Just how long has Michael Scott been wreaking havoc on the greater Scranton area? From this episode of The Office, Scott’s Tots, we learn that he’s been at it for at least 10 years, when he promised a group of third graders — Scott’s Tots — that he would pay their college tuition should they graduate from high school. Oh those heady days of 1999, when Michael thought he’d be a millionaire by age 30, 40 at the latest. Well, it’s 2009 now and the chickens have come home to roost. In a series of cringe-inducing scenes, Michael tries to avoid facing the music at all, then reluctantly comes clean, but only after letting the kids sing his praises.

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Taking a Twirl on the Big Stage

November 20, 2009 - by: Matt Rita 6 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $0. For the second week running, our favorite paper company largely avoided any obvious liability on the employment law front. In fact, Dunder Mifflin may have a (nominal) claim of its own against Michael Scott and his road-tripping entourage, based on their unauthorized limousine frolic.

If this were a securities or bankruptcy law post, last night’s episode of The Office would provide ample material for a discussion of a corporation’s duties to its shareholders and creditors in the midst of creeping insolvency. But we’ll leave those topics to other bloggers. Given our focus, we’ll instead look at the experiences of three characters — Michael and Oscar attending the DMI shareholder meeting in New York City, and Jim minding the shop back in Scranton — to identify some common employee relations issues that have the potential to become employment law issues.

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Belles, Bourbon, Bullets & Bankruptcy

November 13, 2009 - by: Jody Ward-Rannow 6 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $0. Shockingly no one did anything illegal in this episode. Dunder Mifflin suffered a full day’s lost productivity due to Corporate’s poor handling of the bankruptcy situation.

In this week’s episode, the recession finally hit Dunder Mifflin. Faced with such stress, I would have expected the Scranton branch to become a plaintiff’s lawyer’s dream, but shockingly, no one did anything that really violated any employment laws. Jim tricked Dwight into beating himself up instead of injuring Kevin, avoiding a potential battery and workers’ compensation claim. Although, I suppose Dwight could have made a workers’ comp claim based on his injuries since Dunder Mifflin sanctioned his Karate Seminar. Angela was uncomfortable with her game character and could have tried to make a religious discrimination claim because she did not want to be a voodoo witch doctor, but that’s a pretty weak claim. Dwight also should not have told the staff that they cannot unionize if they come work for him. It is illegal for an employer to prohibit unionization under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

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Belles, Bourbon, Bullets & Bankruptcy

November 13, 2009 - by: Jody Ward-Rannow 6 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $0. Shockingly no one did anything illegal in this episode. Dunder Mifflin suffered a full day’s lost productivity due to Corporate’s poor handling of the bankruptcy situation.

In this week’s episode, the recession finally hit Dunder Mifflin. Faced with such stress, I would have expected the Scranton branch to become a plaintiff’s lawyer’s dream, but shockingly, no one did anything that really violated any employment laws. Jim tricked Dwight into beating himself up instead of injuring Kevin, avoiding a potential battery and workers’ compensation claim. Although, I suppose Dwight could have made a workers’ comp claim based on his injuries since Dunder Mifflin sanctioned his Karate Seminar. Angela was uncomfortable with her game character and could have tried to make a religious discrimination claim because she did not want to be a voodoo witch doctor, but that’s a pretty weak claim. Dwight also should not have told the staff that they cannot unionize if they come work for him. It is illegal for an employer to prohibit unionization under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

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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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